The Toys that made us – Interview with Brian Volk-Weiss

Posted on: December 20, 2017


Remember spending precious free time playing with your toys?  Those little plastic figurines that were a gateway into your imagination.  Well those heroes and creatures that you just couldn’t live without have an origin story of how they got into your hands.  This December (12/22) Netflix and creator Brian Volk-Weiss have created an episodic documentary about your favorite toys in The Toys That Made Us.  


Streaming only on Netflix ‘The Toys That Made Us’ documents the fantastic story of some of your favorite toylines and we were fortunate enough to speak with creator Brian Volk-Weiss.


TOY-LINES:   What does  the Toys that made us  title mean to you?


Brian Volk- Weiss:  It was actually during a conversation about when we were trying to figure out what the title of the show would be and we had a lot of ideas for what the title would be.  One of them was, and I’m embarrassed to even admit this now, but one of them originally was like the “History of Toys,” or something ugly like that.  And we were talking about it and at one point I was like, this is a show about the toys that made us — like we have to find a way to say the toys that made us in the title.  And I was like — it might have even been my wife, to be honest with you — but somebody was like oh, why don’t we just call it the “Toys That Made Us”?  And it was one of these funny things where we were like for now, let’s call it the “Toys That Made Us.”  And then …


TL:  It just stuck?


BVW:  … you know, we’ll come up with something else later, and it just stuck.  Everybody loved it.


TL:  Yeah, we were talking about it in the office and we’re like that’s a really good title.


BVW:  I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear that.  That’s music to my ears.  You really — you never know what people are going to think.


TL:  So why did you want to make this documentary?


BVW:  Starting back with me being a kid, like even three years old, with the toys that I played with and then saved and then started buying toys just because I like having them in my office and in my collection, which I now call a collection but it used to just be my room full of toys, basically I wanted to do a show about toys.  But I’m also a huge history buff so I kept trying to learn about the history of all the toys that I loved over the course of my life and I realized that (a) there’s so much about these toys I didn’t know; (b) there’s been a lot of documentation about Star Wars and Barbie, but not a lot of documentation about He-Man and Transformers, and even Star Trek toys.  There’s been a million documentaries about Star Trek; there’s never been a documentary about the toys.  So I took my love of toys and I took my love of history, combined them, and then yeah — that pretty much was the beginning auspices of what became the show.



TL:  What did you collect as a child?


BVW:  My main toys as a kid was of course Star Wars, Transformers, and GI Joe.  Those are my big three.  And then in honorary fourth place would be Star Trek.  I was not a huge He-Man collector.   I really didn’t play with He-Man as a kid.




TL:  What are some of the toys, besides your own favorites, what other toy lines are in the documentary?


BVW:  We covered eight toys.  Let’s see if I can do this.  We got GI Joe, Star Wars, He-Man, Barbie, Lego, Hello Kitty, Star Trek, Transformers.


TL:  Has there been any talk for a volume two?


BVW:  There have been talks insomuch as we have, with Netflix, discussed if season one does well then there will probably be a season two, but that’s as far as it’s gotten.  I know the toys I want to cover, but it has not gone that far with Netflix.  They, understandably so, want to see how season one does.


TL:  How was it working with Netflix?   Were they supportive or were they nervous about it?


BVW:  I’ve worked with Netflix a lot because we do a lot of comedy with them, stand-up comedy, so I’ve definitely been in business with them for a long time but I’d never done a series with them and I had never done — this is the most personal show of my entire career.  So with that in mind, they were the greatest partners.  I’ve never had a better experience in my entire career.  It was absolutely wonderful.


TL:  Now cartoons were a big part of ’80s toy collecting.   Did you do/uncover anything about the connection between animation and the toys?




BVW:  Well, animation, as I’m sure you know, plays a huge part in GI Joe and Transformers, so, I mean, we really covered those cartoons a lot in those episodes.  And then a little bit in some of the others, but the main shows, especially Transformers, where the cartoon was super-relevant.

TL:  Throughout your interviews, did you uncover any mysteries or stuff that has never been public before?


BVW:  Absolutely and we tried really hard to do that.   We tried to interview people that had never been interviewed before and we would find people that even if they had done an interview would be like you know, nobody’s ever talked to so-and-so, and you should really talk to that guy or that girl, because — and we worked really, really hard to find people that had relevant pieces of the story that had not given it before.  A great example of that is we interviewed Marc Pevers.

BVW:  He was the Lucasfilm guy and he was the guy who George Lucas said let’s get toys made, and he was the guy literally getting on the airplanes and going to Mego and Parker Brothers and Mattel and Hasbro and being turned down.  And he’s the guy that went to Cincinnati and got them on board for Star Wars.  So if he’s been interviewed before, I am not aware of it, and it was — I mean, he was great.  His information was great, but he was also very honest and open about a lot of things and, in my opinion at least, was kind of funny about it.


TL:   So who else have you interviewed?


BVW:  I mean, we did over 300 interviews, so I’m allowed to say anything.  It’s just a matter of remembering.  We interviewed Marty Abrams from Mego.  If we were blessed enough to get a third or fourth season, we should probably do a whole episode just on Mego.  I mean, I don’t know how much you know about Marty or Mego but it really was the opposite of Hasbro and Mattel in that Hasbro and Mattel were these big public companies and its shareholders; Mego was this private company run by the son of the founder and, I mean, it was just — definitely had this anything goes mentality.


TL:  Besides professionals, you also went out to toy stores and toy collectors?


BVW:  Yeah.  We really — we shot a lot of examples of toys, of the prototypes of toys.  We built this light box, which was like this rig that was lit from below so we could put the toys on them and make them look beautiful and then we had this light rig from above.  So we dragged that with us all over the world.  We were in Denmark, Japan, Mexico.  And we really sought out collectors, which I’m sure you know a lot of collectors have prototypes.  A lot of collectors have first shots and whatever, and we really worked hard with the community to get access to that stuff but also this is the kind of show that is really made by a community and we really wanted to be plugged in with it.  We didn’t want to make this show in an ivory tower and then throw it out to everybody; we wanted to make the show with the people that we hoped would be the fans of the show, and I think we succeeded in that regard.  And if you look at the credits, it’s at least 10 to 15% of every episode, the credits are people in our community that helped us make the show.


(SPOILER ALERT) – We discuss a potential spoiler item in the show.




TL:  So you have found toys that were supposed to be made but never released?


BVW:  Absolutely.  I mean, one of my favorites that we found was we found a prototype for a Transformer that was a VHS tape.  It was literally a full-sized VHS tape when it was in VHS-tape mode and then would turn into a Transformer, very similar to Soundwave or to a certain extent Megatron except it was a VHS tape.  So that’s one of my favorite things that we’ve seen, but oh my god, we saw — do you remember the Star Wars micro line, the little metal miniatures?


TL:  Yes.


BVW:  Yeah, we saw a bacta tank set that was never released with Luke Skywalker in his underwear.  I mean, we literally — routinely, while making this show, I saw stuff that just made me either get goosebumps or my eyes even watered, I have to admit.  I saw a first shot of C-3PO that was all black plastic.  I saw a first shot of the TIE fighter that came out like in ’78 that was all white.  Even the glass was white.  It was like a first shot.  So we saw crazy, crazy stuff.


TL:  That’s incredible.  That must have been quite a treat.  And all that’s going to be in the documentary, or did some of it get cut?


BVW:  Yeah.  I should have announced at the beginning a spoiler alert, so I apologize for that, but yes, that’s all in the show.*

*Spoiler alert taken care of.—–End of Spoiler




TL:  Awesome.  How far back did you go?  Did you do any modern interviews like with McFarlane Toys or the Four Horsemen?


BVW:  Oh, yeah.  Oh, absolutely.  The show goes from the beginning up until like the week we had to lock the episode, so every episode has a different percentage of what decades it takes place in, but yeah, I mean, GI Joe, most of his time is spent in the ’80s and ’90s but we go up ’til 2017.  Our Star Wars episode has “Last Jedi” toys in it [including] the New Millennium Falcon Lego toy.  It has the Women of NASA, which just came out three weeks ago.  So we get as much in as we can until we lock and then — so it should be within three or four months of locking before airing, so we got close.  We got close.



TL:  Awesome.  And it’s funny you mention women — that’s my next question.  Will you be covering any, dolls or female action figures like Barbies?


BVW:  Yeah, in season one we cover Barbie and Hello Kitty, so those are in season one, and if we’re lucky enough to get more episodes we definitely want to do My Little Pony.  I’d love to do a full episode just about She-Ra, Strawberry Shortcake — I mean, there are a lot more out there.  Cabbage Patch Kids could be its own episode.  That’s a crazy story that we learned about.  So, yeah, we’ve definitely done Barbie, we’ve definitely done Hello Kitty.  I don’t know anything about Barbie before the show started and it’s an amazing story, and I would say I — I don’t have like a PhD in Barbie, but I probably like a master’s degree now in Barbie.  It’s a great story.


TL:  Throughout the documentary, have you noticed how the toy industry has changed over the years?  Is that something that the documentary also focuses on?


BVW:  I’ll tell you something funny, man.  There really — the only real change for the toys has been in a good way there’s a lot more detail in toys and in a bad way because the price of plastic has gone up exponentially over the last 50 years, the quality of the plastic that’s used is not, in general, as good as it was in the ’80s.  So if you pick up a modern Rattler that was made five years ago, it weighs a lot less than the Rattler that was made in the ’80s.  But the interesting thing is, if you take into account inflation, the Rattler you would buy today is about half of what the Rattler in the ’80s cost.  So that’s an interesting thing.  But one of the things that I read a lot on Facebook and blogs and stuff about toys is people are always saying it’s just about movies now, it’s just about brands, there’s no original brands.  I’ve got to tell you something, man.  It’s always been like that.  One of the only exceptions to this is He-Man.  He-Man was really the only toy that just started off as a toy but that is not even completely accurate.  As you, of course, know, there was a comic book and a cartoon.  Star Wars was based on a movie.  Star Trek was based on a TV show.  Barbie — you could certainly argue that Barbie has always existed on its own without a property, and that is true, but it really, if anything, you could argue now there are more toys that are popular without a property and a license today than there were back in the day.  So it’s actually the opposite of what most people think.  To be honest with you, this is one of these questions where if you had asked me it before we started making the show I would have agreed with everybody else; it’s only because I ate, slept, and breathed this for 14 months that I realize now that that is not accurate.


TL:  Do you also talk about tooling and the creation of toys?


BVW:  Yes.   We don’t get into it too much but we definitely cover it, absolutely.



BVW:  We really got into the molds and the tooling.  We saw amazing molds in Billund, Denmark when we visited Lego HQ.  We literally went into this warehouse that’s like the warehouse from the end of “Raiders” and we got them to open boxes and, I mean, it was crazy.  We saw — we literally saw the molds, because in the ’80s there was really only one plant, so we saw the molds that made every single two-by-two and four-by-two brick.  So if you grew up in the ’80s or if you were playing with Legos in the ’80s and you were in Peru or Chicago or China — not China, but Japan — we literally held the mold that made all of those bricks.  So we saw a lot of that.  We saw a fair amount of tooling for Transformers when we were in Japan.  We saw some great Star Wars tooling.  I don’t know how much He-Man we saw.  He-Man was interesting — we saw a lot of [He-man] artwork.  We saw a lot of the things that led to what would become Skeletor.  Same thing for GI Joe.  What would become the cover of GI Issue 34.  So we did a lot of artwork as well.


Stream in on Friday December 22 only on Netflix and discover the history of the Toys that made us.

Special thank you to Brian Volk-Weiss for the interview.


Tom Romero



Filed under: Articles,Interviews — admin @ 4:06 am

Toy-Lines Interviews Wizard of Oz Collector Walter Krueger

Posted on: September 15, 2017

When it comes to collecting The Wizard of Oz there’s no other Royal Historian of Oz collectibles than Walter Krueger. Toy-Lines recently interviewed the Royal Historian on his “Ozsession” as he calls it, his collection & how he’d like to one day turn it into a museum.

Toy-Lines – Walter, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. You’re collection is extremely impressive. Do you remember the first time you saw The Wizard of Oz?

Walter Krueger – The first time I saw the movie I was around three years old and it was at the height of the 1989 50th anniversary! It was a great time to be alive Toys & dolls galore!! I remember my local toy store having an isle full of toys devoted to the 50th anniversary.

TL- How did you get started collecting? Do you remember your first collectible & if so what was it?

WK – My very first Wizard of Oz item was actually a coloring book based after the original text from the original book. My grandmother gave it to me while she was at a doctor’s appointment so I sat in the waiting room and became a lifelong Oz collector and fan at that very moment in time.

TL – How many pieces do you have in your collection?

WK- My Collection is nearing somewhere between 8500 pieces to 9000 pieces I’ve lost count along the way!

TL – How many times have you see The Wizard of Oz?

WK- That’s another thing I’ve lost count on! Let’s say so many times I can recite every line and I know every inflection and movement of every character.

TL – Have you read all the Baum books as well as the other Royal Historians? How many times? Any favorites?

WK- When I was a child my grandmother used to read the Oz series to me; they were among her favorite books to read. Personally my favorite was “Ozma of Oz”, we get to meet the rightful ruler of Oz in this book. And I also enjoyed “The Patchwork Girl of Oz”, The Patchwork girl also known as Scraps is a very funny character and cleverly created! Also with her pet Woozy!

TL – Who is your favorite Wizard of Oz movie character?

WK- I don’t have just one, Dorothy and the wicked witch. I love the dynamic between the two of them! We have two characters completely opposite of each other put it against each other seemingly by mistake.. It is the ultimate good versus evil within children’s story books.

TL – Who is your favorite book character?

WK- Never can have just one! I love Scraps aka The Patchwork Girl & The Woozy! I also LOVE Princess Ozma.

TL – Do you collect just items based off the original movie? Or do you collect anything & everything Oz?

WK-I collect everything that is Wizard of Oz, L Frank Baum ephemera, anything and everything in the Oz universe! Especially the very Old & Vintage!

TL – Is there anything Oz you wouldn’t collect?

WK- No, never have met a wizard or little dog I didn’t like 😉

TL – What item is the most important to you?

WK- The most important item in my collection is a chalk ware lamp my mother bought me and painted for me when I was a child I got it as a Christmas gift when I was six!

TL – Do you have a “Holy Grail” of Oz collectibles?

WK- My holy grail is a hard item to pick, I’d say it’s between an exact pair of Ruby Slipper replicas made on a actual pair of Innes Shoes (the same style the studio used as base shoes) with all vintage components. Or my original woozy that Mr. Baum himself gave to his former neighbors children back in the 1900’s while living at “Ozcot” his Californian home.

TL – Do you have any original props from any of the Oz related movies?

WK-I have a few pieces including Winkie guard uniform pieces & spear from the witches castle! And Emerald City Guards coat & pants set, directly from the MGM 1970 auction!

TL- with Oz being in the public domain there’ve been many comic books based on it. Do you collect these?

WK- I actually do! I have tons!! All the various takes and interpretations, I also am good friends with Eric Shanower! He is a well known comic artist and lifelong Oz fan as well so he was a person I met on my yellow brick road of collecting and instantly took to his adaption’s he produced.

TL – Have you ever gone on any “Oz” road trips, perhaps to Syracuse where Baum was born or out West to California to see where his house “Osco” once stood or to the Land of Oz former theme park in North Carolina?

WK- I actually work for the Land of Oz theme park in North Carolina. They do two events a year, and I help set up the park and help the coordinators with any Ozian task that is needed in order to ensure a magical experience for each guest in the park! I also help run the Land of Oz museum during these events, giving people a chance to meet me and get their Oz treasures appraised!

TL – How often do you collect? Is this every day?

WK- Collecting Oz for me is an everyday adventure! With such sites as eBay, Amazon, and even overseas international auction site my job and collecting Oz is never done! I often am notified as well by fellow collectors of rare items when they come up to for sale, as I also run the largest collector-based group on social media for Wizard of Oz the group is called Wizard of Oz Collectors United! With 7000+ members I am constantly finding new items to add to the collection.

TL – One would think since you collect Oz you’d be easy enough to shop for, but with such an extensive collection does your family & friends find it difficult & you get doubles?

WK- I devised a way to make it easy for friends and family early on, it’s simple! I just never buy any of the new stuff that is commonly found in the stores such as hallmark items, making shopping easy for me and that way they know what they can find in the store I don’t have. I myself just concentrate on finding the very rare and unusual and vintage Oz items.

TL – Do you run into this problem yourself?

WK- Sometimes, I do buy doubles by mistake! It happens to the best of us!! Lol

TL – How do you keep track of your collection?

WL- I have an index like a grande inventory that I have kept over the years and added to for insurance purposes as well.

TL- Do you prefer vintage collectibles to modern?

WK- I love vintage!!! That is always top on my list!!! and I also love international things that were not available in the United States of America especially Italian and Japanese released items.

TL- You’ve said you’d like to turn your collection into a museum. How has that been going? What’s involved with it?

WK- Currently I am working with people that are interested in somehow forming a big business connected to it they are people who are helping me realize my dream, it’s just all in good time my pretties… all in good time.

TL – What do your friends & family think of your collection?

WK- They think it’s extremely unique and it is what defines me from a lot of people. Through my collection I’ve also tried to inspire people in following their dreams, what I do is not extremely ordinary so I figure if I can do this anyone can do what their heart desires, if they just put their mind to it!

TL – What do people think of your collection when you first show them?

WK- People are taking back with a flood of memories from childhood. There’s not a single person that can look at any of this and not remember some sort of memory connected to the story. The Wizard of Oz is touched so many people and so many generations it’s very easily relatable and understandable why I love it so much. Mainly people are also very intrigued and surprised to know how much has been made over the years!

TL – Being a Royal Historian of Oz, how often are you asked the question about the rumored munchkin who hung himself on the Tin Man set which is supposedly in the movie & do they believe you when you tell them the truth about this?

WK- I have been asked that question more times than you can imagine it is the macabre and lore of a good scary tale, an urban legend. Everyone loves a good scary story even myself but this one this one about the munchkin isn’t true, actually it was a giant bird ( a crane) to be exact, that they released on set to create the illusion that the indoor sets were actually outdoor and more believable, I often say to people that ask this question do you believe a timid sixteen year old girl of the 1930s such as Judy Garland would have continued on filming that scene with that in the line of her vision?!? Seriously folks. Never happened.

TL – Have you ever thought of writing your own Oz books?

WK- I’ve often thought about writing a story that would cover the return of the wicked witch of the west set during a Halloween tone. Or penning the back story of the ruby slippers and where they came from and how the witch of the east had them before Dorothy.

TL – Have you ever thought of writing a book on Oz collectibles?

WK- That is something that I am going to pursue in the future actually! So fingers crossed you will see that soon in some form!

TL – Do you have any foreign Oz collectibles?

WK- Tons! I’ve collected many items that come from overseas via international eBay auctions and other international auction sites! My favorite among those items are the ones from Italy and Japan the fandom and artwork are astounding!

TL – When you first started collecting, where did you go to find things?

WK- I would go to doll shows, county swap meets, garage sales and antique stores! My grandmother and mother both were antique doll dealers! Specializing in dolls from the 1900s all the way to present day, both had extremely large collections and doll rooms in their homes! So when I was growing up I learned all the tricks of the trade from the pros including where to go prior to our now Internet advanced days that we have

TL – With Ebay & the internet how has this changed collecting for you?

WK- With the Internet and auction sites it has made collecting easier, it has also unearthed Oz things scores of collectors had no idea even existed!! It has change the game of collecting completely! Making information and these items more accessible to those who desire them.

TL – I believe you coined your collection an “Ozsession”. Do you find this a good thing?

WK- I think out of all the things that people could have afflicting their lives, this is definitely a good thing… and has brought joy to the so many I share it with

TL – How has Oz helped you in your life? I’ve read you were bullied in your teens for being openly gay. How did Oz help you get through this?

WK- I was able to relate my life experiences with what I love so much! I was completely fortunate in being able to find the parallel between Dorothy’s story and my own that I was living, Life is a whirlwind that we can get sucked up in and it will take us on an adventure which along the way we will meet people who are brainless, heartless, and cowardly, we are brought to them to help them learn about themselves and in return they help us learn about ourselves! There are good witches and bad witches in this life and it’s up to us to make our way through them and with them. The Wizard of Oz is a metaphor for life, I realized that being very young, so having that under my belt made identifying who I was much easier… after all before you start your journey, you must have a good idea of who you are.

TL – Do you have any collectibles from the old Land of Oz theme park in North Carolina?

WK- Many many many. And I love all of them! My very favorite among the vintage items I have just because of my employment at the park and the amazing fun history they have! The selection of souvenirs is not lacking either, we are talking so many different wonderful items to collect it makes my head spin like a tornado!

TL – Are there any Oz movies or television shows you thought could’ve been better?

WK- NBC’s Emerald City could have had a kinder heart and soul to it… I’m all for modernizing Oz, but let’s remember the original works you take from are bound with magic and imagination, not malice and darkness. I think it would’ve been more successful had it kept somewhat of an innocence that families could’ve watched it together instead of the demographic being so direct to the Game of Thrones crowd. That basically choked it to death. Hence it being canceled.

TL- When you go out to collect something, do you have something in mind to get or do you just go & see what you find?

WK- I never know what my yellow brick road will lead me to when I’m collecting! I just keep my eyes open and hopes up! A lot of times it is a surprise to even me what I can find! Or rather what finds me…

TL- Would you say there’s more Oz collectibles out now than previously?

WK- I’d say over the decades it’s been pretty steady and the same! Oz has always been a popular choice among merchandising!

TL – Have you seen the theme park proposal Garry Goddard has on his website for a Wizard of Oz theme park? If so, what do you think of it?

WK- That was a dream that was supposed to be a long time ago, way prior to 9/11. Many investors and people even people I personally know where involved with the development of the park plans and Investor meetings, the world was so different prior to terrorist attacks and oil wars! They even had the land picked out! Ready to go! But then September 11th happened and our world changed and the company for “World of Oz” theme park closed.

TL- What did you think of the Tom & Jerry Wizard of Oz & its sequel Tom & Jerry Back in Oz?

WK- I grew up with the 1990 cartoon that aired up every Sunday morning, so having Tom and Jerry bring back something very familiar was such a delight! I absolutely love Tom and Jerry and the Wizard of Oz and it Sequel movie Back to Oz! It’s exactly what we need to explore in order to keep the world of ours and its characters fresh and new for new generations! Now they just need to do Merchandise for the cartoon characters!

TL – When you first started collecting Oz did you think your collection would ever become what it has?

WK- I always dreamed as a little boy that it would, I never thought in a million years that it actually would be so … I guess its proof in never giving up on your dreams!

TL – Would you ever stop collecting Oz or do you think you always will?

WK- I don’t think I ever will stop, just because of how much joy it brings me and other people who love watching and learning from me. It is such a part of the fabric of who I am.

TL – What does Oz mean to you?

WK- It definitely is a metaphor for life as I said, we are sometimes sucked up in a whirlwind of life and taken to new grounds and meet new people and along the way down the yellow back road we search for our dreams and our hopes and helping those around us realize theirs. We all have a yellow brick road we all want to go to the emerald city. It’s realizing it’s going to take each other to get there.

TL – Walter we want to thank you for taking the time to discuss your collection with us. We wish you the best for your museum. Please keep us informed on how it goes.


The Toy-Lines Crew


Filed under: Interviews — admin @ 11:27 pm

Toy-Lines interviews Whitney Pollett – Toy Designer

Posted on: November 1, 2015

Hello Whitney, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions from us here at Toy-Lines.

TL – How did you get involved with toy design?

WP- Toy design was a bit of a happy accident really. I went to school for animation and was offered an internship at Disney Consumer Products in their Character Art department upon graduation. I thought, It’s not exactly what I had in mind, but it’s a foot in the Disney door so I’ll go for it!
Turns out, character art was insanely creative and I learned a ton from the other artists and my amazing mentor, Dorota Kotarba Mendez. (Hi Dorota!)
Once I was there, I was tasked to design new fashions and poses for the Disney Fairies and Princesses. Other teams like publishing and Interactive started to take notice in my new interpretations of the classic characters and it was really encouraging. Of course, these stylings were totally off-model so the toy team thought that I’d be a better fit for them since they do a lot of new stylings for classic brands like Minnie, Princess and Tinkerbell.

I didn’t really know about toys at the time, other than I loved to collect and play with them, so I once again kept an open mind and figured that there was a lot I could learn from this new experience. Toys turned out to be another incredibly awesome yet unexpected opportunity. I stayed with Disney for about 6 years from intern to senior designer until I moved on to freelance and then Nickelodeon Consumer Products which is where I am today! From Snow White to Sponge Bob! Title of my auto biography? Possibly yes!!

fox & hound litho

TL – What did you study in college to help you with this field?

WP – I studied Digital Media with a focus on character design and concept art for animation at OTIS College of Art + Design. There, we learned about character development, the importance of props, environments, fashions and overall tone for a visual story. When I got into toys, I found that my skill set lent itself really well to the new medium. Environments turn into playsets, characters turn into dolls, fashions turn into costumes, accessories turn into role play items, and color keys turn into Pantone chips! Costing and manufacturing is easy to learn. It takes a lifetime to be a good artist. If you can draw, you can make toys.
At its core, the end goal is always the same: To tell a story and entertain an audience.

TL – I see on your resume you’ve done freelance design for many toy companies like Marvel. Can you tell us what you did for Marvel?

WP – I wish I could, but the concept is still in development. When it comes out though, I’ll let you know. Hehe, sorry!

TL – What is it like being a freelance designer? What’s a day in the life like?

WP- Freelance is a bit of a roller coaster and that’s if you’re good. I was lucky enough to have so many projects and friends in the industry so I was always busy but that didn’t mean it was easy, that just meant that I had the ability to support myself with my art which is really only the first step.
Step two: Being organized and time oriented. Step 3: Becoming your own lawyer. Step 4: Creating great work and fast, and finally, Step 5: Becoming a bounty hunter/Rihanna aka “Getting Paid”. There are a ton of growing pains but once you figure it all out, you’re officially an entrepreneur. High five!! :Smack::
A day in the life is like this: Wake up, check email. Respond to email and go back to bed for another hour. Drink coffee, get pumped, get creative, rest and repeat.
You’ll get a lot of last minute projects that are typically asked for on a Thursday or Friday with a very short deadline, Monday most likely. I would get emails like “hey, we need a whole doll line designed with multiple fashions for five new characters and we need it by Monday. Send an estimate. Bye!!”
I loved it though because I hardly ever had any good weekend plans anyway! Haha!!

liz favorite


TL – What’s the less obvious differences between a freelance designer & one who works for a company? What is a day in the life like for a toy designer?

WP- Sleep. Freelancers never sleep. They tend to spend their mornings brainstorming for their project and then it’s pen to paper (Cintiq) around 3pm which bleeds into the wee hours of the morning! It’s really fun and freeing but if you value your sleep, then maybe freelance isn’t for you. Freelancers also get to work in what they’ve slept in for like 3 days straight and it’s pretty amazing. Haha Pro tip: Make plans with friends to give yourself a reason to shower and interact with other humans. Lol.
All jokes aside, having the freedom to work with everyone on all of these brand new ideas is so energizing, you don’t even really miss sleep. I’d recommend it but it’s best to make contacts in the industry before you jump into the freelance life. You can be the best designer, but if no one knows you or your work ethic, it’s tough to break in. BONUS Step 6: Network. Stalk people on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and send them links to your work with nice notes and loose coffee invitations. 😉

Working with a big company is great too! They have the capital to develop something from concept to franchise in about a 2 year time frame. There’s nothing more satisfying than collaborating with a team of brilliant minds to create something that’s going to inspire millions of happy little kids all over the world.

The downside to freelancing is that you’re not with the team, growing the idea over the course of its lifespan.
Someone once said to me “freelancing is like birthing a child and never seeing it grow up” and it’s kind of true. You come up with an idea that you (usually) think is pretty genius and then you just give it away, never really knowing what’s happened to it. It’s a bit of a bummer but eventually when it does surface somewhere you can say, “Hey! I worked on that”!!


TL – How involved are you in your toy designs? Do you get to sculpt?

WP – I have sculpted in the past but nowadays I usually draw up the designs with turns, reference and details for a sculptor to follow and add to. Collaborating with sculptors is usually my favorite part of the toy design process.


TL – What’s it like to see one of your designs go from concept sketch to finished toy?

WP – It’s unreal! There’s literally no better feeling than going somewhere like Toys ‘R’ Us or Target and seeing a bunch of kids running over to your toys and shrieking with delight! I’ve seen it and it fills my heart! I want to jump up and down with them and then ask a million questions like “what’s your favorite part about this toy?” “Who’s your favorite character and why”? Then I realize that that’s super weird and parents usually frown upon strangers berating their kids with questions so I resist haha. In summary: It’s such a cool feeling.

TL – Have any of your designs not made it to completion?

WP – Tons! Like 9 out of 10 designs are scrapped or transform into something new. One of the hardest truths in the toy industry is that you can never fall in love with your ideas. Share them with gusto and trust your gut but at the end of the day, things change and you have to learn how to let go or else you’ll never make it very far. It’s a good practice in life too. Modesty is good. Teamwork is good. Pride is bad. Tacos are great!

TL – Have a lot of your designs made it to completion?

WP – Oh yeah, a bunch! I can’t ever say that any designs are truly “mine” because it takes a village, so to speak, to develop a toy for mass market but many toys on shelves today I’ve worked on from inception and it’s pretty exciting! When I see them out there, I feel like I know all of these behind-the-scenes secrets that no one else knows and I love it. For example, when you work with Disney, they’re really good about involving everyone from the beginning so when Frozen was in development, we (the toy team) were invited to the production milestone meetings to give suggestions on how certain elements could be more “toyetic”.

We never messed with the story, but we would say things like “OOoooh man, an ice castle would make an amazing playset”. Or short black hair might not be great for a doll. How about long light hair to match the snowy color pallet of the film”? The next thing we knew, we got invited back to meet with the directors and see Elsa with that amazing white braid and an insanely gorgeous ice castle. Then, as a gift to the creators and their vision, we gave them gorgeous singing dolls and playsets that look exactly like their designs. Those toys are now in the hands of every little girl, annoying the crap out of all their parents, hahaha. ::Let it gooooo, let it GOOOO!!!!:: I’ll NEVER let go! Haha Sorry (not sorry)!

TL – Can you tell us what a character artist does?

WP – A character artist usually meets with the creator and learns about the character. They read scripts and envision what that character could look like based on just words on paper and their own life experiences. The character artist then starts drawing what he or she has in mind and shares that with the creator again. Next steps are mood boards, character explorations, proportions, fashion iterations, revisions, and color. Some projects are really involved and have a ton of rounds where others are pretty quick and straight forward. It really depends on the creator and what they’re looking for.

TL – You mentioned being a fan of Disney animator Glen Keane. Is there any favorite character’s he’s animated?

WP – ALL!!! Ariel of course is my #1 favorite. Next would be the Beast from Beauty and the Beast. ::spoiler alert:: That final transformation at the end?? HOOoooo man!! Drool worthy. His new animation called “Duet” is really gorgeous and moving on an emotional level. If you haven’t seen it, check it out!

TL – How did you get involved with Disney art? I was in Disney World this summer & saw your items for sale.

WP- Coming from the Disney Character Art team, I had a lot of experience drawing the classic characters so my style was already pretty Disney-ish. I later met someone at Comiccon who asked me if I’d be interested in showing in the Disney Wonderground Gallery. To which I replied “Heck YES!” I’ve been working with them ever since and it’s been great! I’ll be flying back to Disney World and signing at the Downtown Disney Co-Op on December 11-13th. Come back and say hello!

TL – You mention on your site you’ve done background acting for TV shows. Can you tell us which ones?

WP – HAhaha oh yeaaah. Well, I was a hand double on Bones. I fake made-out with a vampire on The Vampire Diaries and I played about 100 games of poker while sipping a colorful mocktail in the show Las Vegas! There were a few others too but those were my favorites.

TL – Your site has designs of what looks like a Maleficent Disney Animator Doll & a Tiki Lounge that fits in well with the Tiki Room theme. Can you tell us about these?

WP – Oooooh your assumptions are incorrect but would be SO AMAZING!!!! I really hope someone reads this and makes both of those things. So the Mal doll was for Jakks and I can’t really say any more about that and the Tiki Lounge was for Disney Fairies. You were really close!

TL – What is the one item you’ve made you’re most proud of?

WP – Hmmmm…. There have been so many wonderful lines I’ve been fortunate enough to work on, but the one that holds a special place in my heart is Disney Fairies. I’m a big fan of pretty floating ladies so Fairies was just SO so much fun for me. Coming up as a close second and possible tie for first would be Shimmer and Shine. Toys hit shelves in just a few months so keep an eye out! They’re going to be sooooo cute!! Fluid lines and pretty little details galore.

TL – What medium do you prefer for design: computers or the more traditional pencil & paints? How does each help & differ when designing toys?

WP – You’re asking a lot of really good questions! Okay so I prefer digital for its convenience and forgiveness but nothing beats traditional pencil to paper. Painting and sculpting too is just so liberating. I love the challenge of filling a page with something beautiful without making any mistakes as if I’m playing some kind of high stakes game, but traditional is more for my own personal enjoyment. Digital is better for professional projects since there are usually a lot of minor tweaks and changes along the way.

TL – If someone wanted to get involved in toy design for a career what advice would you recommend?

WP – Love toys. Love making people happy, Love coming up with creative solutions. If you have a passion for all three, the rest is easy.

Whitney thank you for taking the time out to talk with us. We wish you the best with all that you do.

WP – Thank you so much!

If you’d like to check out Whitney’s website to see some of her designs & artwork follow the link over to her site –

The Toy-Lines Crew





Filed under: Blogs,Interviews — Tags: — admin @ 1:43 pm

Toy-Lines interviews Andrew Farago, author of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Ultimate Visual History

Posted on: August 28, 2014

Toy-Lines – Were you a turtles fan as a child?

Andrew Farago – Absolutely. My younger brother and I watched the first television mini-series when it aired in December, 1987, and we were hooked immediately. I started tracking down the early comic books right away, and we began collecting the action figures as soon as they hit shelves the next year.

Toy-Lines – Can you explain how the idea for this book came about?

Andrew Farago – Chris Prince, an editor at Insight Editions, was familiar with my earlier books and wrote to me asking, “what do you know about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?” I told him I was a fan and I wrote up an outline for how I’d fill a 200-page book. He liked my approach and I got the assignment.

Toy-Lines – Were there times where your were writing that you discovered something you didn’t know which you knew you had to include in the book?

Andrew Farago – Definitely. Almost everyone I interviewed was very generous with his time and very willing to share stories about working on TMNT, and I could have written a 400-page book with all of the information I gathered during two years of research.

Toy-Lines – Was there anything you wanted to include but didn’t get to?

Andrew Farago – Plenty. Despite all of the time I spent researching, some TMNT projects didn’t quite fit into the book’s narrative, and in some cases, I just wasn’t able to talk to enough people who worked on a particular project before the book had to go to press. And sometimes I wasn’t able to get enough artwork to illustrate a particular chapter, so we had to take a different approach to make things work. I’m really pleased with the book that we produced, but the perfectionist in me wishes that we’d had another year and another 100 pages.

Toy-Lines – What was it like meeting Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird?

Andrew Farago – I haven’t met Peter in person yet, but had a great time trading e-mails with him over the course of a year while I was doing my research. Kevin’s a lot of fun, and I got to hang out with him a bit at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con. He’s a very cool guy, and I was really impressed with how he interacted with his fans–hundreds of them! He was thrilled to meet each and every person who came up to him for a sketch or an autograph, and that was great to see.

Toy-Lines – While interviewing did everyone have fond memories of the turtles?

Andrew Farago – Just about. There were a few people who had less than ideal experiences while working on TMNT, but that usually related to individual projects that didn’t quite work out for one reason or another.

Toy-Lines – How important is family & friends when under taking a task such as this?

Andrew Farago – Very important. My wife has always been the primary editor on everything I write, and she’s the one who keeps me going when I’ve got to spend a full day transcribing tape-recorded interviews, or piecing together ten sets of e-mails into a coherent chapter, or frantically tracking down missing artwork for a chapter. My friends were very understanding of the weird schedule I had to keep when the book was getting into crunch time, too.

Toy-Lines – What is it like writing a book on the history of something that’s been around for so long? Exhausting?

Andrew Farago – It was pretty overwhelming at the outset, since every person I interviewed seemed to lead to another three people, and the sheer number of TMNT projects and products created over the years was staggering. I always had at least five e-mail chains going at a time, usually more.

Toy-Lines – How do you not verge off topic & did you ever worry you were forgetting something the turtles were a part of?

Andrew Farago – That’s why you have an editor. Chris Prince did a great job of making sure my narrative was focused, and was able to tell me when the book needed more information on a particular subject, when something should be dropped for the sake of the overall narrative, and when I’d gone completely off the rails.
If something wasn’t included, it was usually because it started derailing the rest of the book, or in some cases, I just didn’t have enough access to people or resources to make for a great chapter. The people who worked on the Turtles video games, for example, generally didn’t have much to say about it other than it was a standard work-for-hire job, and I limited my discussion in that area as a result.

Toy-Lines – How long have you been writing?

Andrew Farago – I’ve been writing (and making comics) since I was a kid, but not professionally until around 2001. It’s always been a part-time thing for me, since my day job at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco keeps me very busy, but if a project interests me, I’m glad to fit it into my schedule.

Toy-Lines – Let’s talk about your Looney Tunes book for a second (Looney Tunes Treasury). I take it you’re a Looney Tunes fan?

Andrew Farago – I’m a big time Looney Tunes fan, and have been as long as I can remember. My dad grew up on them in the 1940s, and it was fun sharing them with him when I was growing up.

Toy-Lines – Was writing that book more difficult than the turtles one or did they each have their own difficulties?

Andrew Farago – Each book had its own unique challenges. Just about all of the major players in TMNT history are still around and willing to share their stories, so that book required lots of interviews and tracking down people involved with the Turtles. Very few creators involved with the Looney Tunes are still alive today, so that required a lot more archival research and time spent in front of the television.

Toy-Lines – Did Warner Brothers let you tour their archives for footage?

Andrew Farago – No, but I didn’t pursue that for The Looney Tunes Treasury, since the DVD box sets and previously published history books by people like Jerry Beck provided me with all of the source material I needed. The publisher tracked down all of the art for that book, too, so it wouldn’t have affected the book much if I’d been able to go to Burbank and root around the WB Archives.

Toy-Lines – Mel Blanc is such an integral part to Looney Tunes. Have you ever read the book Mel Blanc: The Man of a Thousand Voices by Ben Ohmart?

Andrew Farago – I haven’t, but it’s on the long list of books I intend to read one of these days.

Toy-Lines – What was a day in the life like for you while writing the turtles book?

Andrew Farago – Most of the “typical days” were normal workdays where I’d fit in a little bit of time for e-mail interviews and occasional phone interviews, going home at night and reading comic books or watching cartoons or movies, and jotting down notes about design and the book’s outline. When it got time to really pull the book together, I took a few extra days off from my day job so that I could spend a full eight hours fitting my interview responses into a book-length narrative.

Toy-Lines – Did you travel for the interview or were they all done from the comfort of your own home?

Andrew Farago – Interviews were mostly done over the phone or via e-mail. I think the only in-person interview I did was with Ken Mitchroney, who illustrated a lot of the TMNT Adventures comics published by Archie, since he lives in the area and knows me through mutual friends.

Toy-Lines – Do you have a favorite Ninja Turtle?

Andrew Farago – I’ve always been a Donatello guy.

Toy-Lines – Do you have a favorite Ninja Turtle cartoon series?

Andrew Farago – Nostalgia makes me pick the original series, although I’m a huge fan of the current series on Nickelodeon.

Toy-Lines – Do you have a favorite Ninja Turtles movie?

Andrew Farago – I saw the first live-action movie in the theater when I was 14, and it’s hard to top that. That one’s still my favorite.

Toy-Lines – What are the challenges one faces when writing a book like the turtles?
Andrew Farago – Leading up to the book’s release, I finally got a sense of just how big the franchise is, and what it means to its fans. I was really nervous about fan reaction to the book, since they’ve got such strong feelings about the Turtles, but they seem to really like it, which is a huge relief.

Toy-Lines – When completed did Kevin Eastman or Peter Laird have comments?

Andrew Farago – Kevin loved it, unconditionally. Peter was also really impressed, although he had a detailed list of suggestions and revisions for the second printing. I think once those are implemented, his opinion of the book will go up several notches.

Toy-Lines – How did Peter Laird get chosen to write the foreword to the book? Did he volunteer or did you ask?

Andrew Farago – I asked. Once I had Kevin lined up to work on the cover, with Mirage artist Ryan Brown, it was a no-brainer asking Peter to write the foreword.

Toy-Lines – One thing that is really cool is all the inserts on the pages. How did you decide what to use & what not to use & were there more you wished you could have used?
Andrew Farago – I’m really impressed with what the design team did on the inserts. It’s like getting 20% more book for your money, and was a great way to solve the problem of having access to more great art than we could use otherwise. I wish we’d had even more pages, though, and another few months to track down even more artwork.

Toy-Lines – One of the inserts was a comic strip from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic strip from Creators Syndicate. I’ve always wanted to read the strip. Did you get to read them all?

Andrew Farago – I haven’t yet, but I’m hoping that IDW Publishing will get around to collecting the whole run eventually. The strip wasn’t widely syndicated, so many of us never got to see it in our local newspapers.

Toy-Lines – How did it work with Mirage including all the inserts they provided or art work?

Andrew Farago – Most of the work included in the book came from artists and individual collectors, as opposed to the Mirage archives. Nearly everyone I contacted was very enthusiastic about sharing art for publication, though.

Toy-Lines – What made you choose the Ninja Turtles as a follow up book to your Looney Tunes Treasury?

Andrew Farago – TMNT was actually the first book offered to me by a publisher after Looney Tunes, and I was happy to take it.

Toy-Lines – You work for the Cartoon Art Museum, have they ever had a show on the art of Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

Andrew Farago – We’ve got a TMNT 30th anniversary exhibition on display right now, through September 28, and the show includes all of the original artwork from the very first issue of TMNT from 1984. Visit for more info.

Toy-Lines – Did you get to interview folks from Playmates Toys about the turtles lines?

Andrew Farago – Yes, I spoke with Karl Aaronian, who was part of the team that first produced Turtles action figures, and he was very knowledgeable about the entire history of TMNT and Playmates.

Toy-Lines – With Nickelodeon owning the Ninja Turtles now, were they enthusiastic about the concept of the book?

Andrew Farago – Definitely. We couldn’t have done the book without their full cooperation, and they were really big supporters every step of the way.

Toy-Lines – I enjoyed the fact that not only you covered each Ninja Turtles movie, but each cartoon series & comic series, as well as the Next Mutation live-action TV series. Was there any research that went into this, like having to watch them all?

Andrew Farago – I didn’t have time to watch every single episode of every series, but thankfully I’d watched a lot of it prior to writing the book. I spent a lot of hours catching up as I wrote, though.

Toy-Lines – As a whole, what was the experience of writing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Ultimate Visual History like for you?

Andrew Farago – It was a lot of fun, probably even more than I expected. Getting to talk to Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman was great, but I also got to interview some amazing people like Rob Paulsen, Vanilla Ice, and Brian Henson. Getting to talk puppeteering with Brian Henson is something that I’ll always remember.

Toy-Lines – Do you have any other books in the works that you can talk about?

Andrew Farago – I’m talking to a few publishers right now, but don’t have my next big project lined up yet. The best place to keep up on my work at the moment is, and I’ll list new projects there as they’re published. is another place to keep track of me, and I’m gradually building a site at, too.

Toy-Lines – Andrew, thank you so much for the interview & for writing this book. It’s truly worth every cent & is a great read. We here at Toy-Lines wish you the best of luck in your career.


The Toy-Lines Crew


Filed under: Blogs,Interviews — admin @ 10:37 pm

Toy-Lines Interviews Jane Labowitch, Etch A Sketch artist

Posted on: August 14, 2014

In the art world there’s many mediums in which to express yourself.  For Jane Labowitch her tool of choice is the Etch A Sketch. Toy-Lines recently interviewed Jane about her creations on this iconic childhood toy.

Toy Lines – Why Etch A Sketch?

Jane Labowitch – I started playing with an Etch A Sketch when I was about 4. It was just another toy in the house and I really enjoyed making pictures on it and erasing it after. I played with it a ton growing up and haven’t got bored with the toy yet!

TL – How long have you been creating art with one? When did you first start?

JL – I first started playing with an Etch A Sketch when I was 4, and I started taking it more seriously when I was around 16.

TL – How long did it take for you to master the device for doing this?

JL – I got used to the mechanics of an Etch A Sketch when I was young–I can’t recall the precise moment that I got good at doing more difficult things such as curves and diagonals. I think it just naturally happened from playing with the toy a lot in my youth. After I got to the point to where I didn’t have to think about which knob made the stylus move which direction, my skills on an Etch A Sketch developed with my drawing skills.

TL – How did you become known as “Princess Etch A Sketch”?

JL – When I first started posting my Etch A Sketch art online, I noticed that other Etch A Sketch artists had monikers of their own, so I decided at first to be “The Etch A Sketch Girl” but I eventually got bored of that name so I chose to become “Princess Etch A Sketch”.

TL – Have you ever seen how an Etch A Sketch works, and does that help you with creating?

JL – I have seen videos and photos online showing how the interior of an Etch A Sketch works but I did not see them until I had already been making art on an Etch A Sketch for a few years. It’s interesting to me, but I don’t think it’s been helpful for me creating art on one as I already had a basic understanding of how an Etch A Sketch works.

TL – Has Ohio Art ever contacted you for how you create pieces with one of their toys?

JL – I have been in contact with Ohio Art but we have not broached that subject. But they are mystified by my art!

TL – What were your thoughts when they contacted you?

JL – It felt really validating when the company has reached out to me. The first time I officially reached out to them (outside of an email or two) is when they had a booth at the Chicago Toy and Game fair a few years back. I introduced myself and showed them a portfolio of my work. One of the Ohio Art employees looking at my portfolio recognized my work!

Lately Ohio Art has been paying better attention to the artists who use their product and I am really excited. If there’s anyone who can showcase what an Etch A Sketch can do, it’s the artists who are already die-hard knob turners. I’m optimistic that I will be continuing to stay in touch with Ohio Art and hope that there will be collaborative Etch A Sketch projects in the future.

TL – Have you ever been invited to Toy Fair in New York City as a guest to show what is possible with an Etch A Sketch?

JL – No, but that sounds like fun! But I was invited to show my work at a fashion trade show Who’s Next in Paris this last January. Though a seemingly unlikely place to show my Etch A Sketch art, the theme of the show that year was toy and Etch A Sketch was invented in France!

TL – What was it like to go to Paris all because of an Etch A Sketch? I would say that is something most people can’t say is the reason why they went.

JL – Sometimes I feel like my life is a movie–this was definitely one of those times. Looking back on my whirlwind trip, it’s still hard for me to believe it actually happened! My week in Paris was a dream come true. The craziest part for me was seeing this GIANT Etch A Sketch sign hanging over my booth at the trade show upon my arrival. To think that this was all happening because I picked up Etch A Sketch as a kid…it just feels unreal. Never did I think this toy would be so pivotal in my life.

TL – Is every piece of art created with just one line?

JL – Yup!

TL – I’m stunned you do this all with one line. How long did it take you to get to the point of using one line to do this? Also, trying to figure out how you do this, when creating a character, say Frozen for instance, how do you the face without having unnecessary lines?

JL – The big trick with only having one line to work with is becoming an expert at re-tracing lines you already made. A style that I also personally execute is having thick outlines around parts of a piece, which requires going over certain lines many times. It took me a long time to have the dexterity and control to keep my lines as smooth as they are now.

When it comes to making sure I don’t have unnecessary lines, I do my best to plan beforehand and figure out where connecting lines (such as lines that connect the eyes to the side of Elsa’s head) would be least noticeable. I also do what I can to make the connecting lines less pronounced than other details around it so the eye is not as drawn to them. It’s tough and something I am still working at becoming better at!

TL – How long does it take to create something or does it depend on what you’re creating?

JL – It definitely depends. For pieces on a small Etch A Sketch, depending on the subject matter and degree of detail it can take anywhere from 15 minutes to over 4 hours.On a medium Etch A Sketch it can range from about 1-7 hours and on a classic size usually between 3-25 hours.

TL – How did Disney contact you to create the Etch A Sketch Cinderella & Sleeping Beauty Castles?

JL – I was contacted by a staff member at DeviantArt (where I actively post my Etch A Sketch art) with an opportunity to be interviewed by the Huffington Post for their teen section. After the interview was published, I was contacted by Gary Buchanan who works in PR at Disney World and read the article about my art, and was interested in having custom Etch A Sketch art made for the Disney Parks blog. The rest is history.

Here’s a link to the article:

TL – What was it like hearing from them?

JL – It was so exciting! I remember my eyes lit up and I could hardly believe it. I called my mom and exclaimed the news to her over the phone. Getting that kind of email from Disney was definitely a dream come true–I never thought I’d have the chance to make art for a company that meant so much to me!

TL – What was it like when they contact you to do the Frozen piece of Anna & Elsa? Are you a Frozen fan?

JL – I couldn’t believe it–my first thought was, I get to work for Disney again! I was stoked to do video work with Disney as it’s something I’ve wanted pursue myself. And yes I’m a big Frozen fan…it’s embarrassing how times I’ve listed to “Let it Go”.

TL – How many pieces of Etch A Sketch art do you think you have made?

JL – If I could give a rough ballpark estimate I’d say around 300 pieces. I’ve lost track over the years. Many have been erased, some of which I never even photographed.

TL – Do you buy a new Etch A Sketch for every piece of art, or just use one, take a picture of it, then erase?

JL – For the most part that’s what I do now. I used to just take a photo and make something new. But I now preserve my Etch A Sketch art by removing the powder from the inside of the unit and gluing the knobs down. It’s a messy process but definitely worth it. Because of this, I have A LOT of Etch A Sketches!

TL – Can you tell us a bit about the ones you sell on your site? Do you take requests?

JL – I sell a lot of personal work on etsy but most of my sales are custom orders.

TL – How did you figure out the preserving of your art? Did someone tell you or did you figure it out on your own?

JL – I understood that it was the powder inside of the Etch A Sketch re-coating the screen that caused the image to erase, but didn’t know a good way to remove it from the Etch A Sketch. I worked for a summer with a fellow Etch A Sketch artist Christoph Brown in Los Angeles, and assisted with his preservation process. I’ve done a lot of experimenting since then, and have developed my own process for preserving and cleaning an Etch A Sketch.

TL – It’s true you might have a lot of Etch A Sketches now, but the toy does make a cool custom frame for the art.

 JL – It really does! One cool thing about Etch A Sketch is that Ohio Art has made the toy in a lot of cool colors and patterns and shapes (such as a heart) over the years. I love collecting them but love the iconic red most.

TL – I really like the Yoda one in your gallery. How long did it take to create that?

JL – That was probably my first Etch A Sketch piece I dedicated legitimate time to. It took about 6 hours to make, and a few years later I noticed that the lines have faded so I spent another 2 hours or so retouching parts of the piece, which gave Yoda more depth.

 TL – Do you use other mediums to create art? Paint? Draw? Sculpt?

JL – Yes! I have a BFA in Illustration, and during my 4 years in art school I only did Etch A Sketch art in my spare time. I also paint with watercolors, draw with pencil/ink pen and do digital work on Photoshop and Illustrator.

 TL – Which is your favorite Etch A Sketch piece of art you’ve made

JL – That’s a tough question! Sometimes my favorite changes. Today my favorite is one I created of a world from my imagination:

Nothing at all was planned for this piece and I am really happy with the final product. It was sold in Paris!

TL – Do you prefer working on a regular size Etch A Sketch or the pocket ones?

JL – I prefer the pocket size because it consistently has the best mechanics. But lately I have been leaning more toward the regular (Classic) size because it gives me more space to work with.

TL – Do you always have one with you in case inspiration hits?

JL – Yup! I always keep a pocket Etch A Sketch in my purse. I often ride the public transit in Chicago and find that it’s fun to etch people’s portraits without them knowing.

TL – What has your family & friends reactions been to what you can do with an Etch A Sketch?

JL – They are all very supportive and cannot understand how I do it! My family shows my work off to their friends and think it’s awesome. I’m thankful my friends and family have been so encouraging and enthusiastic about my work!

TL – Has any family or friends requested Etch A Sketch art for a birthday or Christmas present?

JL – A few friends have, and my sister Liz has been nagging me to do her portrait for years (I swear I’ll do it eventually! haha) but my family more often requests art done in other media such as watercolors. But every year my number one present request is Etch A Sketches!

TL – Has your website helped bring more focus on your talent?

JL – My website has helped me in that I finally have a place for all of my social media accounts to funnel to. So in that sense, yes! It’s helped me to have a centralized location that has a primary purpose of showcasing my work. If I meet someone who is interested in my work, I send them to my website first so they can see what I consider to be my best work.

TL – What have people’s reactions been like when they view your site?

JL – Peoples’ reactions have been very positive! My favorite response is actually nostalgia because it’s such a nostalgic toy for me, too, and I like to relate that with others.

TL – Do you ever go to a cafe or park & just sit with your Etch A Sketch creating something & do people come up to you to watch?

JL – As mentioned before, sometimes I etch while on the transit. Every now and then the person sitting next to me will make a comment, and I’ve had some great conversations with people about my art while riding the train. Once I went to Millennium Park to etch the bean and met so many great people who were so kind and complimented me on my work. Maybe I should go back and etch the bean again!

TL – Do you always plan on using an Etch A Sketch as a way to create?

JL – Definitely! It’s my favorite artistic medium.

TL – Do you have any words of encouragement for those who would like to try this?

JL – Have fun! It takes a while to get used to the mechanics of an Etch A Sketch. But there is so much you can make even with boxes and stairs. And just like everything else art-wise, you’ll improve with practice. I started with stairs just like everyone else, so I wasn’t gifted with magical Etch A Sketch powers. If you stick with it, you can get good at Etch A Sketch too!

TL – Jane, thank you for the interview. We here are Toy-Lines wish you the best of success with your art.

JL – Thank you!

To see Jane’s work please visit her websites:


The Toy-Lines Crew






Filed under: Blogs,Interviews — admin @ 10:38 pm

I Geek Disney: Interview with Christian Willis, Webmaster of

Posted on: June 24, 2014

“It wasn’t yesterday nor the day before, but it was a long time ago…back when the critters, they were closer to the folks and the folks they was closer to the critters–and if you’ll excuse me for saying so, it was better all around” Uncle Remus from Song of the South

They sound like fond memories, much like many older fans have of seeing Song of the South when it was released. But that’s all they are now with so much controversy surrounding it.  Christian Willis is a fan of Song of the South; he’s also a collector of Song of the South merchandise. Even more, he’s the webmaster to, a website dedicated to the Song of the South feature, collectibles, history and to help people see that Song of the South is really not what they’ve been told it is.

Toy-Lines recently interviewed Christian about his website, collection, and all things Song of the South.

TL: Christian, thank you for agreeing to the interview.

Christian Willis: No problem! I’m always glad to answer questions about the movie.

TL: Why Song of the South?  How were you introduced to this Disney feature and how old were you?

CW: I believe I saw the movie in theaters when I was 6 years old (1986). Around that time, my grandfather also read me some of the Disney Uncle Remus stories (which I still have on cassette tape). I watched all of the Disney movies as a kid, so this was just naturally one of them.

TL: What made you create

CW: Back in 1999, there wasn’t a lot of information on the Internet about this movie. I originally started my web site just as a place for displaying my growing collection of Song of the South memorabilia, but I started getting a lot of questions from people trying to find out about the movie. I didn’t know the answers myself, so I started to build on a web site that would answer them.

TL: How do visitors to your site react? Do you get e-mails from them?

CW: Generally I get lots of positive comments, from people who are just learning about the movie to people who saw it back in theaters in 1946! I love hearing from people about the movie. I do get the occasional person who doesn’t like the movie and/or what I’m doing, but those are pretty rare.

TL: Why do you like Song of the South so much?

CW: It’s a fond memory from my childhood. Plus, I love collecting stuff, so the two just kind of converged! I can’t say the movie is in my top 10, but I’ve taken up the cause to present the public with information about this film.

TL: Favorite character?

CW: Brer Fox! I love his expressions and how conniving he is.

TL: Favorite scene?

CW: The scene where Brer Fox and Brer Bear are waiting for Brer Rabbit to stumble upon the Tar Baby. The comedic interaction between Brer Fox and Brer Bear always crack me up!

TL: Favorite song?

CW: Let the Rain Pour Down. I really like how the Hall Johnson Choir performed it, and the contrasting verses (upbeat in the morning, tired and slow in the evening).

TL: When did you first start collecting Song of the South?

CW: I was at an insulator show in Bakersfield, CA, in 1997 (I also collect glass insulators). Under an antique dealer’s table was a set of records. The familiar faces of Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Bear sparked my memory about a movie I had completely forgotten about. After that, I started looking in antique shops with my dad, picking up records and books here and there.

TL: What was your first item?

CW: The record set was the Tales of Uncle Remus from 1947, 78 rpm (Capitol CC-40).

TL: What is your favorite item?

CW: That’s a really hard question to answer! I suppose if I had to pick one, it would be the 1956 “Big Surprise Package” record set from Disneyland:

I’ve seen exactly two of these since I started collecting. In the Disney record price guide I have, it’s briefly mentioned but has no value because they have never seen one.

TL: How many collectibles do you have of it?

CW: I’ve slowed down over the past few years, but at last count I believe I was at about 515 items

TL: What was the most expensive item you ever bought?

CW: I believe that was the 1956 Scotch Tape lobby poster set. Another one I’ve yet to see another of!

I paid a lot more than the original cost of $3.50, that’s for sure…

TL: Do you have the Japanese Song of the South laser disc?

CW: I do. I understand there are a couple of different variants, but I just have the one. Sadly, I have no way to play it!

TL: Are all the items on the site from your collection?

CW: For the most part. There are a few books and records here and there that I have listed even if I don’t own them, in the hopes that someone out there has one and is interested in selling!

TL: What does your friends & family think of your collection?

CW: They’re supportive I suppose. They’ve been putting up with my weird collections since I was a little kid!

TL: When was Song of the South first released?

CW: It was released on November 12, 1946 in the United States.

TL: Was it ever re-released theatrically again?

CW: Yes, it was re-released 4 times: 1956, 1972/73, 1980, and 1986.

TL: But it never aired on television, The Disney Channel or for home viewing?

CW: Bits and pieces aired over the years in the U.S., but I’m honestly not sure if it was ever aired in its entirety. In other countries, like the UK and Australia, it was still being aired as recent as the 2000’s.

TL: Song of the South is based off of Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus tales. Have you ever read them?

CW: I own and have read parts of the book “The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus”. While I recognize Harris went to great lengths to reproduce the dialects in writing, it’s a very hard read at times!

TL: There is much controversy surrounding the film.  I feel that most comes from people who don’t know the truth of it, for instance, that the film is set after the Civil War when slavery is abolished.  Would you agree?

CW: Yes; I believe at least part of the reason this movie is so shrouded in mystery and controversy is because it’s unavailable to the public. Regarding the slavery aspect specifically, the general public probably doesn’t know that the Joel Chandler Harris stories occurred after the Civil War. Back in 1946, Walt Disney may have thought setting the date was unnecessary. Today, however, I think it would be wise to make that clear by prefacing the movie somehow.

TL: Do you think Disney is helping The Song of the South by not releasing it or explaining this crucial fact or hurting it?

CW: I believe they are hurting the movie, without a doubt. After all, this is an Academy Award-winning movie we’re talking about. In my opinion, Disney needs to bite the bullet and release the film, with a preface or introduction explaining when the film was made, what era it depicts, and what Walt’s vision was when he made it.

TL: It’s been said that Brier Rabbit represents the slaves while Brier Fox and Brier Bear represent the slave owners.  In the tales Brier Rabbit always outsmarts them.  Is this true?

CW: Yes, that’s the general consensus. Although, in the movie, Uncle Remus is telling the stories to Johnny (Brer Rabbit), who uses the morals to outsmart Ginny’s bullying brothers (Brer Fox and Brer Bear).

TL: What’s the best way to explain The Song of the South to people so they see it in the proper way?

CW: Walt Disney grew up with these stories, and always wanted to bring them to the screen in a way that only he could (combining live action and animation). This was a product of the 1940’s. While it may contain what some would consider stereotyping today (as quite a lot of the movies did at the time), I don’t believe Disney had any malicious intent. He was simply telling an interpretation of Joel Chandler Harris’ stories.

TL: What kind of reaction do you get when you tell people you collect Song of the South?

CW: I guess surprise would be the best way to describe it. And sometimes confusion, until I describe the movie

TL: How do you feel about Splash Mountain being a ride based off of Song of the South having the characters in it but no mention of Uncle Remus? Does this help or hurt the controversy?

CW: I think it was a clever way for the Imagineers to keep Song of the South alive. Even if they don’t mention Uncle Remus anywhere, if guests do enough digging, they’ll find out what the ride is based on!

TL: Many African-Americans support this film, like Floyd Norman, Disney’s first black animator, Hattie Davis, who played Aunt Tempy in the feature, as well as James Baskett who played Uncle Remus. Why does Disney never use this info in support of the film?

CW: I wish I could answer that; I’m not sure. I guess it could be said that the critics are more vocal than the supporters. Disney is always under pressure to not ruffle any feathers.

TL: James Baskett won an honorary Oscar for his role of Uncle Remus, the first African-American male to do so during those years. He also voiced Br’er Fox.  Did he provide any other voices?

CW: According to the 1946 press book, he originally was trying out for the voice of a butterfly in the film. He also supposedly filled in for Johnny Lee (voice of Brer Rabbit) during the Laughing Place sequence because Johnny Lee was called away on a USO tour.

TL: For how long did the “Uncle Remus and his tales of Br’er Rabbit” Sunday Comic Strip appear? Was it ever released in a collection and have you ever read it?

CW: Good question! I believe it ran from 1945 until well into the 1950’s (if not later). Unfortunately I don’t know the exact dates. I don’t believe it’s ever been released in a collection, but I do have several Sunday proof copies. I was fascinated by all the different characters they came up with, and once upon a time I was going to create a Brer Encyclopedia to catalog them all. Unfortunately, it’s just too hard to find the comic strips.

TL: Were there ever any Br’er Rabbit comic books?

CW: Absolutely, lots of them! I have a whole section in my memorabilia for comics:

TL: Have you ever read Floyd Norman’s “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah Christmas” comic strip?

CW: No, I haven’t! I’d love to learn more about that!

TL: What’s the deal with the “Splash Mountain” rap? Shouldn’t that be banned for how terrible it is?

CW: As a child of the 80’s, that makes me cringe. Ernest Goes to Splash Mountain, however? I LOVED Ernest as a kid (still do), and I’ll never forget watching that on TV when it aired! I forgive them because of that.

TL: Looking through your site one of my favorite things is the live action stills, especially the ones of Uncle Remus sitting with Johnny and the one of Uncle Remus with Ginny, Johnny and Toby. What are your thoughts on these two stills?

CW: From the movie standpoint, I think it shows that both Uncle Remus and the children didn’t care about race, and surely that’s the most important thing to take away from this movie. From an acting standpoint, these pictures tell me that James Baskett was a real class act. It’s truly a shame he passed away before he could add more movies to his career.

TL: How many Song of the South characters make a cameo in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988)?

CW: I’ve seen Brer Bear, the Tar Baby, the 3 moles, and the 3 hummingbirds.

TL: How many items did Disney sell when Song of the South was first released and is there a “Holy Grail” for Song of the South collectors?

CW: There were several books available, the Tales of Uncle Remus 3-record set, and sheet music for 6 of the songs:

In my opinion, the “holy grail” from 1946 would be the campaign book. It’s chock full of articles, ads, merchandise, and photos:

TL: Is new merchandise made today?

CW: Absolutely. Disney continues to profit off this movie today, releasing limited edition pins, figurines, etc. I have to admit, I stopped keeping track. I couldn’t keep buying these items with the knowledge that they are making money on Song of the South while refusing to release the actual movie. It seems awfully hypocritical to me.

TL: In your opinion do you think people think the feature is controversial because they’ve been told so and never saw it for themselves or learned anything about it for themselves to make a decision?

CW: I certainly think that’s part of it, yes.

TL: Your “In Humble Defense Of” section on your site is very well written and thought out.  How long did it take you to write it, and in essence would you say that this is what your site is about?

CW: Thank you! That’s my second version, by the way. The first version was terrible (I was still young and trying to figure out what I was defending about this movie). Since then, I’ve had a chance to really refine my stance. It probably took me a week or so of writing. It really just boils down to Disney deciding for all of us that we cannot watch this movie. I have a problem with that. Whether you love or hate this movie, it should be available for future generations to learn from it.

TL: Do you think Disney will ever release Song of the South?

CW: Yes, I do. At the end of the day, Disney is a business, and they’re out to make money. I would bet they’ll release this movie before the copyright expires.

TL: You were selected to write praise for Jim Korkis’ “Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South? And Other Forbidden Disney Stories” alongside legendary film critic Leonard Malton and Disney’s animator Floyd Norman, as well as being named in the Acknowledgement section.  How did this happen?  Were you given an early copy to read and did you prove any help to Mr. Korkis?

CW: I was honored to be contacted by Mr. Korkis about his book in May 2012, and was given an early copy to review. I helped out where I could, but the overwhelming majority was all Mr. Korkis. I also have a ton of respect for Floyd Norman and Leonard Maltin, so to be asked to contribute a quote alongside them was a real honor too!

TL: Do you have any last words to readers in defense of Song of the South who don’t know what a treasure it is?

CW: My advice: Watch the movie all the way through (it’s usually available on YouTube), and look at it through two sets of eyes:

1) The eyes of a child. Is race even a consideration? Do they treat each other any differently?

2) The eyes of Walt Disney. What was he trying to bring to the world? Racial stereotypes or racial harmony?

TL: Christian, thank you so much for the interview.  I wish you the best of luck with your website and here’s hoping we one day get a Blu-ray copy of Song of the South released from Disney.

CW: Thank you again for the opportunity! Here’s hoping!



To visit Christian’s Song of the South website please click the link

The Toy-Lines Crew

Filed under: Blogs,I Geek Disney,Interviews — admin @ 1:01 am

Toy-Lines interviews former toy package designer and co-owner of Kasual Friday Danny Burau

Posted on: June 19, 2014

Toy-Line: How did you get started in the toy industry?

Danny Burau: I basically got into the industry by coincidence. I had studied advertising and art direction at the University of Colorado, Boulder. I spent three years out of school working at an agency in town, developing skills and learning a little about the agency scene. While there, I started dating my future wife, who went on to graduate school at Brown. We moved to Providence and I started working freelance gigs until I blindly applied for a temp position doing “packaging design.” I applied, did an initial interview, and then discovered that it was a job at Hasbro on the packaging team that handled Playskool. Obviously I jumped at that. I actually hadn’t even realized that Hasbro was in RI until that interview.

TL:  What’s involved in “packaging design”? Do you get to design the package on your own or does the company approve things first before you get involved?

DB: The whole process of packaging design really starts with a brief from the marketing team or whoever the driving force behind the project might be. There are a variety of issues that come into play. On something like Playskool, it really is an internal project, so we have less accountability to any outside decision makers. The marketing team will determine who the target consumer might be (basically always mom) and then we work from there within the guidelines they set forth. Color scheme may be discussed, or particular style of design. From there, the packaging designer will take over, laying out graphics, using content from the copywriter, and working alongside a packaging engineer. We generally worked very closely with the packaging engineer, proposing structure ideas, working on product layout in the package, and eventually, the engineer provides a final dieline, which we as designers would work with. Of course, all through the process, the marketing team and other invested parties would share their input and give approvals.

On the Marvel product team, we had a great deal of input from the Licensor (Marvel). That’s the standard for any product line from a licensor who will be looking to get product in stores to support their overall brand. For example, my first projects on the Marvel team were for Captain America: The First Avenger. I came in part way into the project, and the design team had already worked to establish a line look for the figures using supplied Marvel assets, such as actor imagery generated by Marvel artists, and any key assets such as logos or other specifics. I was part of the whole process on The Avengers product line. We went down to Marvel headquarters in NYC and got to read the script in an early format. While locked in a corner conference room, all recording devices (phones) held from us to protect this highly sensitive information, we sat and read for a couple of hours. And I must say, it was a page turner, as we all found out.

Anyhow, we took that info back to work and started focusing on what we saw as major elements from the movie. We started receiving assets from Marvel in the form of artwork hinting at Stark tower, character imagery, and a few other key graphics. From there, we really got to work through various designs. I did stacks of layouts for basic 3.75″ figures, and working with other designers, we we arrived at a line look that the team liked and that Marvel was comfortable with. The real structure design began then, developing the larger boxes, key elements that tied the line together, and laying out as much uniformity as we could across all Avengers products. Once those things were all established, it was really my responsibility to be sure that every item in the line worked together to form a cohesive statement at retail. We worked with outside illustrators, our photographers, and models to tie stuff all together.

But definitely some of the most fun stuff was the Marvel Universe and Marvel Legends line. We had a lot of freedom there and got to come up with crazy structures for SDCC and worked directly with Marvel comic illustrators to create character poses for the standard Marvel figures.

TL: From start to finish, how long did it take to design the package?

DB: Tough question to answer exactly. For an established line look, just adding a product, the time is relatively short to send files to the printer. For example, if you are adding a new wave of figures to Marvel Universe, you’re looking at a few weeks. And a large portion of that is working on the illustrations with the artist.

If it’s a brand new line look, at a corporate location, three months for a basic blister card from initial concepts to printable artwork with product photos and all.

For Kasual Friday, the actual package design was a line look that would make several licensors happy, one that we liked, and one that could have legs for a long time. From the initial pitched concepts, working with a freelance engineer for the blister and inserts, submitting to licensors, I bet we spent six months on the cards.

So, there’s really a variety.

TL: What was a day in the life like to work on a package design?

DB: Most days would just be coming in and getting to work on whatever existing project I was working on. Trying to finesse a design element from the meetings the day before. Frequently, the day would end with a conversation with marketing about something on the package, we would discuss the direction, and then jump on that the next day. A lot of sketching out designs, maybe again talking to the marketing team, or at least the other designers on my team, then start putting the designs together on the computer.

Several times a week, we would get a call from the model shop that some new prototype toy or figure had been hand-painted and was ready for photography. So we would go collect a tray with all the pieces of a figure (head, torso, arms, legs) and then go build them up using sticky wax to pose them. Looking at the back of toy packages, you will almost never see an actual figure. You are looking at a figure that has been grown on a 3d printer, painted by hand, then assembled just long enough for the photographers to get a bunch of photos taken to the designer’s liking. The photographer would composite a bunch of images together to give us an optimal image, and we would continue on our way processing the photo and dropping it onto the package.

On occasion, we would need to photograph models for our packaging. So, a couple of times per launch (be it Playskool or a Marvel movie property) we would get a bunch of head shots from a casting agent, pick 4-5 kids we wanted to come in, and we would go to a photo studio off-site to do a shoot. The kids would sit at a table and play with the toys. These were honestly some of my favorite days. By the end of it, you may have 500 photos of basically the same shot to go through. There were times when you still didn’t nail it, so we would “Frankenstein” together a shot of a kid’s hands and torso, with a different kid’s head from one shot, eyes from another, and mouth from another shot. When all was said and done, we would have spent hours and hours getting one photo on the back of a package.

So, a day was largely things behind the design. Coordinating the project, sketching, talking to engineers, casting agents, photographers, photo processing, Little Debbie Zebra cakes mid-afternoon, then finally getting to sit down and getting to assemble the design into something you could print out and try to get approved, justifying all of the little decisions that went into a simple package.

TL: How long did you work for Hasbro, Playskool & Marvel?

DB: I spent one year working on the Playskool team and then applied to transfer over to the Marvel packaging team. I worked on that team for one year. I left Hasbro as my wife was finishing grad school and we were moving back to Colorado.

TL: What were your favorite package designs you worked on?  Your least?

DB: Honestly, I have loved working on all of the Kasual Friday packaging. But it’s very much mine, so it’s a bit like saying your favorite people are your family.

On the side of being an employee for someone else, the favorites I have worked on have to be the Comic Con exclusives for the Marvel brands. Probably the Thor hammer for the re-introduction of Legends was a highlight. I worked with a lot of cool people on that one, too.

Although, I did love the whole new Marvel Legends line look we developed. That was a lot of fun.

I definitely had my difficulties working on a few of the Playskool packaging projects. There was a short-lived line of dinosaur toys for Playskool that was just a pain. It actually was my first project at Hasbro and it drug on and on, just taking all of the fun out of the design process.

TL: I’m glad you mentioned Kasual Friday, because that was going to be my next question.  Can you tell us a bit about that?  How it got formed, what the goals are?

DB: Kasual Friday is a business started by a couple of us former Hasbro guys. I was approached after I had left by the lead marketing guy for Marvel toys about my willingness to jump in on a potential apparel and toy business. He had left Hasbro as well, and he had this great idea. Really, the goal was to serve as an outlet for the dedicated fans of under-represented properties to get some gear.

The name actually arose out of a particular shirt one team had made for a Comic Con. It was a black, button down, short-sleeved shirt with some related graphics on it. Fans wanted the shirt, offering big bucks to buy it off of some of the Hasbro employees. We thought about why that shirt was so desired. You could wear that shirt to the office on a casual Friday without drawing too much attention. You could represent, let your fan out, and still be within requirements. Basically, we wanted to let other fan boys be fan boys. And there were a lot of licensors out there that were willing, and even excited, to let us put their properties out there.

Obviously, all of us at Hasbro had a passion for toys, and loved the pop-culture aspect of working on Marvel properties. So, the idea of doing our own thing was always boiling in the back of our heads. “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” Fill in the blank. We wanted to do things and try things that obviously weren’t viable when you’re dealing with so much money and responsibility. So, Kasual Friday was born. Looking to search out those beloved properties of the under-served fans and put stuff out there.

TL: So, how many of you are involved in Kasual Friday?

DB: We’ve got a pretty extensive team of people from marketing, sculpting, painting, graphics, etc, some on consulting basis, and then a core group dedicated to KF.

TL: How long has Kasual Friday been around?

DB: We really got moving in early 2012 trying to make it to the convention in Philly. We came out of the gate with a few exclusives and we partnered up with another vendor there to get some shirts on the market and start building our name. It’s been a solid, continuous growth since then to build capital and produce more.

TL: The Kasual Friday toys have a great style.  Do you decide on the style of them then get the company’s approval of who owns the rights to the characters?

DB: Yeah. We like that exaggerated style, but not too bubbly and cartoonish. Seeing as no one else is owning that expression right now, it worked for us.

We worked with some toy designers and sculptors from our years past to come up with the concept drawings, which then get approved by the licensors who hold the rights to the characters.

The real process is getting the license first (paying for the right to use their brand), then starting concepts. They approve drawings, then digital sculpts, then paint scheme, and eventually final approval before we go to production.

TL: Who sculpts the toys?  Where are they made? Has the rising cost of tooling in China affected your company?

DB: We have a variety of sculptors that we have worked with over the years that we work with.

The production figures are coming from China.

As we haven’t been producing figures for too terribly long, we haven’t experienced much change or impact from changing prices.

TL: Does KF promote its’ products only on its’ website or have you been to Toy Fair?

DB: We have been to a variety of events, including Comic Cons and Toy Fair, as well as sales through distributors and retailers.

TL: Will the toys and clothes be sold only on the official KF website or in stores too?

DB: Most everything is already available on other resources such as Big Bad Toy Store and Entertainment Earth, as well as through Diamond.

TL:  Are there any movie properties Kasual Friday would like to get involved with? Any new properties you can tell us about?

DB: On a personal level, there are a lot of 80s movie properties that I think would be fun to play with, but there isn’t anything we’re pursuing right now. We’re really focusing on doing solid work and filling out the offerings for the licensors we are currently working with.

TL: Danny, thank you for sharing your knowledge of the toy industry with us. Toy-Lines wished you the best of luck with Kasual Friday.  It’s a great site and products and we hope it does well.

If you’d like to check out Kasual Friday’s site and products, please click the link:

The Toy-Lines Crew


Filed under: Blogs,Interviews — admin @ 12:26 am

Toy-Lines interviews artist and writer Jeffrey Brown, creator of “Darth Vader and Son”, “Vader’s Little Princess” and “Jedi Academy”

Posted on: June 4, 2014

If you’ve been in a book store recently you might have seen the cutest Star Wars books ever; “Darth Vader and Son” and “Vader’s Little Princess”, the brain child of artist and writer Jeffrey Brown. Toy-Lines recently interviewed Jeffrey on his Star Wars themed books, his Star Wars fandom, and just who shot first, Han Solo or Greedo?

Toy-Lines: How long have you been writing and drawing comics?

Jeffrey Brown: I’ve been drawing comics since I was a little kid, but professionally, almost fifteen years now. My first self-published book Clumsy was drawn in 2001 and came out in 2002.

TL: Were your parents supportive of your art as a child and as a career?

JB: They’ve always been very supportive – there was a time when they were encouraging me to also take classes of a more practical nature (computer design classes and so forth), but once I was pursuing fine art they were fully behind me. They even helped pay for the first print run of Clumsy.

TL: Where did you attend school for art?

JB: I was a painting major/English minor at Hope College in Michigan for undergraduate, and then received my MFA in Painting & Drawing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

TL: You started out doing more personal bio books like “Clumsy” and “Unlikely”. What made you want to do a Star Wars book?

JB: I grew up loving Star Wars, and the whole time I’ve been drawing the autobiographical comics I’ve also been making more humorous books, often science fiction, like Incredible Change-Bots or Cat Getting Out Of A Bag. When the opportunity to draw Star Wars came up, I jumped on it.

TL: How did “Darth Vader and Son”, “Jedi Academy” and “Vader’s Little Princess” come about?

JB: Initially, I was approached by Ryan Germick, who runs the Google doodle team, about sketching a possible home page image based on the idea of how awkward an everyday father/son moment would be with Luke and Vader. My son was four at the time, so I made Luke four years old and put Vader in my shoes as a parent. Scholastic had approached Lucasfilm about doing a heavily illustrated middle school Star Wars book, and my editor for Darth Vader and Son suggested me as someone to write and draw it. As soon as the response to the first Vader book came back so positive, we were able to make the second book with Leia. I’d already had ideas for a Leia book, but they didn’t really fit with the first book, so Vader’s Little Princess was a way to give her a book of her own.

TL: How did you approach Lucas with getting them created?

JB: I’d published with Chronicle Books before, and knew this idea was perfect for the kind of books they publish. They’ve also done a lot of other Star Wars books, and so after Google decided not to use the Vader and son idea for father’s day, I took the concept to Chronicle, who took it to Lucasfilm. Lucasfilm really got the idea and liked it enough to give it the go-ahead.

TL: Did you create the books before Disney bought the rights to Star Wars?

JB: The Disney deal happened while I was working on Vader’s Little Princess and Jedi Academy.

TL: How is it different working with Disney compared to Lucas?

JB: The only real effect was having to wait before they decided if they wanted to do more Jedi Academy or Vader books, and once they figured things out it was business as usual for my part. I’m sure the publishers deals may have been affected somehow, and the people I work with at Lucasfilm may have had changes with their work, but for my part it’s been pretty much the same as it was before. I’ve had an extremely smooth experience working with Lucasfilm, before and after the Disney purchase.

TL: Have you met George Lucas? Has his response to your books been positive?

JB: I haven’t yet, but I’m hoping to someday – maybe if I make enough of these Star Wars books! I’ve heard that he asked for copies of the first book, which is pretty cool.

TL: Do ideas for your Star Wars books come from observing your children or just observing in general?

JB: Vader and Son is very much based on my older son Oscar, but not having a daughter, I was observing friends and listening to other parents of girls for inspiration. With Jedi Academy, I’m mining my own middle school experiences for inspiration and ideas.

TL: Your Star Wars books are a heartwarming cross between the genius of Charles Schulz and Star Wars. Were you surprised with each books success?

JB: I was surprised, especially by the response of kids. I thought initially I was writing for parents like me, who grew up with Star Wars, but the kids seem to get as much (or more) from the books. It’s always surprising when something so fun to do ends up getting such attention.

TL: I’m guessing you were a Star Wars fan growing up?

JB: Definitely. I had the toys, the Topps trading cards, a ton of books. One of the most influential books for me was The Empire Strikes Back Notebook, which has the screenplay accompanied by a ton of storyboard and concept art. For a while I thought I might become a storyboard artist after reading that book.

TL: Favorite Star Wars character?

JB: Probably Yoda – I love that first scene with him in Episode V so much.

TL: Favorite Star Wars Episode? Why?

JB: The Empire Strikes Back. Not only does it have the perfect mix of action, drama, and comedy, but it has At-At’s, and Hoth, and Yoda, and Boba Fett, and the Imperial March.

TL: Did you read the Marvel Star Wars comics as a kid and if so, any favorite issues?

JB: I did. My favorites were always the Al Williamson issues, especially his film adaptations.

TL: What was your favorite Star Wars toy as a kid? As an adult?

JB: As a kid, probably my Hoth Luke and Tauntaun (the one he could ride, not the one with the split belly). Also, Yoda, with his cloth robe and orange snake. Now, I have an IG-88 which is great because his arms and legs have more maneuverability than the original stiff legged, stiff armed action figure.

TL: Who shot first, Han Solo or Greedo?

JB: Greedo shot first. From a certain point of view.

TL: Do you still have your Star Wars toys from childhood?

JB: I don’t, which I’m kicking my teenage self for. I sold them all off when I left for college. At the time it seemed like a bunch of money for some toys, but now I wish I had kept at least a few of them.

TL: What’s a day in the life like for you?

JB: Most of the day is writing and drawing, with a little bit of reading, occasionally playing soccer, and lots of hanging out with my sons and wife. And then more writing and drawing when everyone else has gone to bed.

TL: What’s your inspiration?

JB: Life and art. Just observing the world around me, and then lots of reading, watching films, listening to music, looking at paintings.

TL: Heroes?

JB: Charlotte Salomon, Chris Ware, Julie Doucet, Carl Sagan – there’s probably more, because there are so many people who have meant so much to me, or whose work has been such a big part of my life.

TL: What do you do to relax?

JB: I watch hockey, and play soccer once a week. I read a lot, both comics and prose, fiction and non-fiction.

TL: Have you ever been to Star Wars Weekends in Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios?

JB: I haven’t yet – no time with all the projects I’ve been juggling! Hopefully I’ll go in the next year or two. I have been to Star Wars Celebration, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

TL: The Gentle Giant maquettes of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader and Princess Leia look great. How involved were you with their creation?

JB: Not very – I got to see some of the prototype sculpts and was invited to give feedback, which was pretty much “Those look great!”.

TL: Did you draw any of the Star Wars books to John William’s Star Wars score?

JB: A little bit to the Empire Strikes Back score, but mostly I just have the movies playing in the background.

TL: While my favorite Star Wars characters are Han Solo and Chewbacca, you really represent Vader in a whole new way, a “Lighter Side” of the Sith if you will. Do you find that challenging?

JB: It is a bit of a challenge, because I never want to completely mollify him, but at the same time, I didn’t want the tone of the books to get too dark at any point, and I wanted to make sure that any violence was handled in a way that supported the tone and didn’t seem out of place.

TL: Some panels have movie dialogue in them. How did that work out? Did you have the idea first and then search the movie for the dialogue later, or was it the dialogue first and search for a funny idea?

JB: I used both methods. Sometimes I just wanted to draw a particular scene and needed to find the right parenting situation to mix it with, and other times I had a situation but needed to track down the right quote to use. Sometimes they both came to mind together from the start.

TL: You worked at Barnes and Noble, was this during your days of trying to break into comics?

JB: I started working there before I was even drawing comics, really – in fact, a good chunk of Clumsy was drawn while on break at the store. I worked there for seven years, finally quitting when I was down to one four hour long shelving shift a week.

TL: Your blog entry on meeting John Hughes was really interesting. Do you think his humor helped inspire your work? It sounded like you enjoyed talking to him whenever he came in.

JB: His humor helped inspire me – I’d been watching his films for years and years, of course – but also just hearing real life stories and advice from someone who had such a successful creative life was also a big help and inspiration. He was just always a kind and generous person to me when he came into the store, and I probably didn’t ever let him know just how much I appreciated that.

TL: You’re also a J.R.R. Tolkien fan. How have you enjoyed Peter Jackson’s versions of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”? How many times have you read the books?

JB: Once I came to terms with the idea that it’s okay for films to be so different from the books, I’ve grown to really love them. I think there’s space for stories to exist in all different forms. I have no idea how many times I’ve read the books, although I haven’t read the Lord of the Rings since the last movie came out. For the Hobbit, we have the Nicol Williamson audio version, which is beyond brilliant, and I’ve listened to that with my son countless times as well.

TL: Any plans on doing a book based on Tolkien’s characters?

JB: No plans, but I would enjoy doing that. Maybe some year I can draw the art for the Tolkien calendar – I think I had the annual Tolkien calendar for over ten years straight when I was growing up, and I would love to do that.

TL: I’ve read your favorite villain is Cobra Commander. My friend and I always debate this, which uniform of his is more menacing? The silver domed helmet or the hood?

JB: I go back and forth on my preference, but I think the helmet is slightly more ominous. I like the look of him with the hood, though, it could be really creepy.

TL: Can you tell us a bit about “Jedi Academy”?

JB: Jedi Academy is middle school set in the Star Wars universe, told through the journals, comics, report cards, notes, school newspapers of the main character Roan. Roan originally wanted to be a pilot, but has ended up at Jedi Academy, and is discovering light sabers and the Force and everything. It’s a lot of fun to write and draw, and I use a lot of my own middle school memories to build the book on.

TL: So, “Star Wars: Jedi Academy Return of the Padawan (Book 2)” is due out this summer as is “Good Night Darth Vader”. Do you have any more ideas for more Star Wars books?

JB: I’m working on Jedi Academy 3 and one more Vader book, and I have more ideas but I’m probably ready for a break from Star Wars. I don’t want to burn out on it, and feel like I should take the break from drawing the books while I can still see myself doing more of them down the road, rather than waiting until they become a drag on me creatively.

TL: Are you surprised at the merchandise that has been created for these books like the Gentle Giant maquettes, the journals, post card books and calendars? Do you have a favorite?

JB: I’ve been part of putting together the postcard books, journals, and calendars, but even how many of those there are now has started to surprise me. I love the maquettes, seeing those is probably the most stunning thing, besides the tiny Darth Vader and Son key chains available from vending machines in Japan that my friend Adam Pasion sent me!

TL: Jeff, we here at Toy-lines would like to thank you for this opportunity to interview you. We wish you the best of luck in your career and with the Star Wars themed books.

JB: Thanks!

To check out Jeffrey Brown’s blog please click the link:

The Toy-Lines Crew

Filed under: Blogs,Interviews — admin @ 10:57 pm

I Geek DIsney: Toy-Lines interviews Brandon Seifert writer of “Seekers of the Weird”

Posted on: April 25, 2014

Toy-Lines: Hi Brandon, thank you for the chance to speak with us regarding the great new comic Seekers of the Weird. How did you get involved with Marvel & Disney Kingdoms “Seekers of the Weird”?

Brandon Seifert: I’d previously contacted Marvel editor Bill Rosemann, hoping to do some writing for him some day. I followed up last summer — and he told me that he’d actually just been considering me for a project! The project turned out to be “Seekers of the Weird.” That’s pretty much the whole story!

TL: Sort of “the right place at the right time”?

BS: Pretty much!

TL: Did you have any nervousness about taking on a project like this?

BS: Not that I remember? I was pretty excited. A little anxious, I guess — but more because I’d never done anything for Marvel before, and I wanted to make sure I put my best work into it.


TL: Well, let me just say, the book has been excellent, so you’re definitely putting your best work into it.

BS: Thank you! That’s nice to hear.

TL: How did the plot come about? Did you have a basic idea, or did Rolly Crump’s sketches inspire you, or did the characters themselves help inspire you while you wrote?

BS: The basic plot actually came from my editor, Bill Rosemann. Before he brought me on board, Bill came up with a possible plot for the series. It had most of the basic elements of the series: The kids, their parents, the kidnapping, the Society of Shadows, the swashbuckling uncle. When Bill brought me on board he had me flesh that plot out, and come up with two wildly different takes on what the Museum of the Weird could be and the stories we could tell in it. But I think we all agreed that the plot Bill had come up with was the strongest. Bill’s not just an editor — he’s also quite a talented writer! The Marvel series Deadline that he wrote is one of my favorites.

Rolly’s sketches were a big inspiration, though. One of the big challenges for me was to figure out how to incorporate as many of Rolly’s designs as possible, in ways that made sense and did them justice.


TL: I can see how that would be a challenge. His designs even stumped Walt Disney at first, so to use them in a comic would be twice as tough I would think.

BS: I think Walt’s call to incorporate Rolly’s designs into a “Museum of the Weird” was a good call! It was definitely a convenient way to unify all the stuff Rolly was coming up with.

TL: Did you get to speak with Rolly Crump before or during the writing of the comic?

BS: I didn’t, personally. But the Imagineers at Disney who were working on the project did. After we finished the first issue, they went and visited Rolly at home and showed him everything we’d done so far. Rolly was apparently pretty excited about it all. It meant a lot to me that Rolly approved!

I did get to meet Rolly shortly after the first issue came out. Rolly, the Imagineers and I did a signing at Beach Ball Comics in Anaheim. I briefly got to meet Rolly, and I got to tell him how honored I am to be working on his creation. That was a pretty nice feeling!

SOTW1 - Copy

(Cover to Seekers of the Weird 1)

TL: I’m glad you mentioned the Imagineers who worked on the book. How did Jim Clark, Brian Crosby, Tom Morris and Josh Shipley help with the book?

BS: The Imagineers gave notes each step of the way. Mostly early on, during the initial outlines and plotting of the series, and then again on the individual scripts. Brian Crosby also provided variant covers for all the issues.

TL:  Rolly Crump’s first name is Roland. Was the character Uncle Roland Bill Rosemann’s way of paying tribute to him?

BS: Bill’s initial pitch was about 3/4ths of a page for the whole series. So there wasn’t really detail on any of the characters. I don’t remember what Roland’s original name was in Bill’s pitch — or if the uncle character even had a name. I suggested Roland as the uncle’s name, both as a tribute to Rolly, and because Roland’s a name with a heroic pedigree. That’s why the two brothers are named Roland and Arthur, and why their ancestor is named Enkidu!

TL: Did you add anything to Uncle Roland?

BS: I think in the original pitch, Bill described the uncle character as an “occult Indiana Jones” character, but didn’t go into more detail. So everything else about him came about during the creation process. For instance, the dark twist that happens with Roland at the end of #1 came about in one of my outlines.

TL: What was the inspiration for Uncle Roland as a character? Whenever I look at him I get this “occult-Errol-Flynn-vibe”.

BS: Yeah, pretty much. Like I said, the initial idea was “occult Indiana Jones,” but we ended up going in more of a swashbuckling, Errol Flynn direction. A lot of that was our series artist, Karl Moline. “Swashbuckling” was one of the adjectives in my description for the character to Karl. Karl really took it literally, more so than I expected — but I think it really worked well, and now I can’t imagine the character any other way!



(Cover to Seekers of the Weird 2)

TL: I can see the Indiana Jones idea in there. I like the swash-buckling version though, there’s something about it that just fits the tone of the comic.

BS: Yeah, I think it works well!

TL: Speaking of names, I’ve been trying to figure this one out since I read the issue, where did the name Enkidu come from?

BS: Sumerian mythology! Enkidu was Gilgamesh’s companion in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Basically, the idea was that most people in Roland’s family line have had classically heroic names. So we’ve got the brother Roland and Arthur — as in, “The Song of Roland” and King Arthur — and their ancestor, named after one of the first heroes recorded in literature.

TL: Thank you, that one was driving me crazy. So it is presumable that the Keeps come from a long line of heroic ancestors, or is this something that we just need to wait and read?

BS: That’s pretty much the implication of issue #3, yeah!



(Cover to Seekers of the Weird 3)

TL: Uncle Roland has an interesting arsenal: the spider-grapple, the gun that shoots skeletons and the sword’s pommel that (freezes or gases?) the taxiderma. Were these original ideas?

BS: Yeah, those were all things I came up with. The weapons in the series were a lot of fun to come up with. But hard, too — one of the remits from the Imagineers was they wanted us to be showing people stuff that they’d never seen before. Which is both great, and time consuming! Roland’s guns, for instance, took me most of an afternoon to come up with. A pair of guns made of stone that snap together to form one double-barreled gun, and fire bones that are haunted by the ghosts of the people they came from? That sort of thing can take a while to dream up!

TL: Now that is seriously cool. So, the gun, the sword, the umbrellas, they all do things. You created ideas for what they can do for all of these? The guns alone are really detailed in what you just said, and from what we see of the Warden’s Armory, I can only imagine what these things can do. Information like that is the kind of stuff I like to hear, Roland’s gun was so cool when he first appears using it, I was trying to figure out if that was a Crump or something original. Very cool, indeed.

BS: Thank you!

TL: How many years apart are Melody and Maxwell? They’re not twins are they?

BS: Melody and Maxwell are about a year and a half apart. They aren’t twins; we decided that would be too Gravity Falls.

TL: Maxwell really likes working in “Keep it Weird” while Melody seems to hate it. Will she eventually become more involved with the family business or rebel?

BS: Spoilers. In all seriousness, I think Melody’s always going to look down her nose at the rest of the family. No matter how much better-suited than she is for the exercise their work involves.

TL: I have a copy of Jason Surrell’s book “The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies”. In the book it tells of Crump’s involvement with the Haunted Mansion, the creation of the Museum of the Weird as well as shows some of his sketches (pages 26 & 27). Whenever I read an issue of Seekers of the Weird, I always pore through these two pages and then the comic to see what of Rolly’s was included. How much did you include and did you stick any in there that even fans might not know of, sort of Museum of the Weird “Easter Eggs”?”

BS: We had… I’d estimate around two dozen of Rolly’s concept sketches on-hand when we were developing the project. The goal was to include every single design! And I think we succeeded. We may have missed a chandelier design or two, but otherwise I think we found a place for everything.


I didn’t consciously include any Easter Eggs, myself. The idea was to put Rolly’s designs front and center — rather than to hide them or anything like that. Still, some of his designs are less well-known than others, and some designs ended up being more prominent than others. So there may well be Rolly designs in the series you didn’t catch!


TL:  What was a-day-in-the-life for you while writing Seekers of the Weird?


BS: That really depends! I wrote the first two issues back-to-back, in the course of about a week. And at the same time I wrote about half of issues #4 and #5. I tend to write things out of order — and the work I’m happiest with is the work I’m “writing across,” working on scenes that are connected in some way but that don’t necessarily happen in chronological order. Like, I’d write a scene in issue #5 — and then go back and write a scene that set it up in an earlier issue.

TL: With Seekers of the Weird ending in May, will we be seeing more of Uncle Roland and the Keep family?

BS: I hope so! I’d certainly be down to write a sequel — or an ongoing series. But that’s up to Marvel and Disney!

TL: Was there anything you wanted to include in Seekers of the Weird but didn’t get to?

BS: My editor Bill Rosemann’s original pitch for the series involved a subplot with a second group of villains. I was pretty partial to it, but Bill wisely decided it’d make things too complicated for the series. I’d still like to see that plot happen at some point!

TL: Perhaps the second group of villains would make for a sequel to the series? I can hope.

BS: I hope so, too!

TL: Brandon, I’d like to thank you for your time for this interview, wish you the best of luck in your career, and remember, “Keep it Weird”.

BS: No problem! Thanks for talking to me!

You can check out more of Brandon’s work at


The Toy-Lines Crew


Filed under: Blogs,I Geek Disney,Interviews — admin @ 11:01 pm

Interview with Dan Vado: Supreme Commander of SLG Publishing

Posted on: March 26, 2014

It’s not often that the “Supreme Commander” of an Independent Comic Company takes the time out of his busy schedule to talk with a fledgling blog, but that is just what Dan Vado of SLG Publishing recently did.  Honest and humble, Mr. Vado is one of the nicest guys in the comic industry, and after reading the interview, you’ll agree as well.

Toy-Lines: How did SLG comics come about? What kind of struggles did you have to make to get started and did you ever imagine the success you would one day have, and how did you settle on the name?

Were comics something you always wanted to do with your life?

Dan Vado: Comics were always a huge part of my life. English is not my first language; my parents are both Italian immigrants and spoke mostly Italian around me. By the time I got to school I was speaking well enough but not reading. I was in danger of being held back (this is the early 1960’s and there was no such thing as English as a Second Language (ESL) type of teaching.

The principal of my school was so stupid he thought my family was Mexican and tried speaking Spanish to me, which I guess made ME look stupid because I didn’t understand him. His Spanish was apparently terrible and he seemed un-apologetic when his mistake was pointed out to him. My first grade teacher told my parents (who clearly were unable to help me as they were challenged by the language as well) to just give me anything that I would read. So, at first I gravitated to Dr. Seuss books then went onto comic books.

Had it not been for that, I might never have really gotten the hang of the language.

At any rate, I read comics all through school, started buying and selling them in high school and had a comics shop after I graduated. I never intended on making my entire life about comics, being in the business was just something I was going to do until I figured out what else I wanted to do with my life.

TL: SLG has been around for 25 years, what have you seen in the comic field that has come and gone as a gimmick, and what are you most proud of for SLG?

DV: I guess I am most proud of still being here. Lots of people come and go; I managed to stick it out for a lot longer than most people thought I would. I am also proud that at one point we had a decent sized business going on, with staff who were paid decently and in a couple of cases got health insurance from us.

TL: Currently, what books are SLG putting out?

DV: We are in a transitionary period, so the books we are doing are mostly digital. This year we will only publish three actual books, one of them being a collection of the Filler Bunny comics by Jhonen Vasquez.

TL: Can you tell us about Shirt Designer and how that came about?

DV: We have a side business, which is actually becoming our main business, of an apparel line. In addition to our own designs we do printing and fulfillment for a couple of people who have their own apparel ideas. That company is called Tee Geniuses (

TL: For several years SLG released the Disney Haunted Mansion comic. Can you tell us what it was like choosing the artists and writers for each story?

DV: The Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland is one that literally spoke to me when I first rode it when I was 10. I started making up stories in my head about how all the ghosts got there and why, of all places, they hung out there.

I was scarcely the only person to feel that way, although maybe I was a little more intense about it, so I just talked to people who had been on the ride and asked them to either tell a story about one of the ghosts, or to tell a ghost story set in the mansion. Lots of people had a load of great ideas.

TL: You wrote three of my personal favorite stories in the series: Mystery of the Manse, The Interview series, and Misery of the Manse. Where did your ideas for these come from?

DV: These came from the back story I created for the ride when I was a kid. The Haunted Mansion in Disneyland is right near Pirates of the Caribbean. There are more than a couple of nautical references in the Haunted Mansion ride; I kind of spun the back story out of that.

The Interview was based on the idea that anyone can be obsessive about anything, even death, and combines it with the passion that some people felt about the ride. That spun into another story where the 999 ghosts thing was a botched curse and developed an idea of a love triangle between The Bride, Leotta and The guy hanging from the rafters.

One of the best and most touching stories in the entire series was Christopher Higginson’s story about the Groundskeeper and why he keeps such good care of the graveyard. I ended up taking from that story in my ending to Interview/Misery stories.

TL: The Groundskeeper is a great tale.  I really enjoyed that one as well.

TL: Your web site has a section for comics and graphic novels that are from other companies, things like Maus to Santa Versus Dracula and everything in between. Is this something you always intended to do, help market other companies? Or is this a new direction SLG is going in?

DV: This is kind of a new direction; mostly it is a more retail strategy for the company, trying to generate more revenue without as much of the risk associated with publishing.

TL: I’m quite the Wizard of Oz fan. I enjoyed the trailer for Royal Historian of Oz. Who made the trailer and can you tell us a bit about the book?

DV: Royal Historian is a different kind of OZ book. It does not retell or rehash the old material and instead sort of makes fun of all the people doing OZ stuff today. We cut our own trailers back then.

TL: I also see you have a collection titled “Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz” which are rare Sunday comics that L. Frank Baum himself wrote. Can you tell us a bit about this?

DV: This was published by someone else; we carried it to compliment our OZ book.

TL: The Beachcomber Polynesian Restaurant (Hurricane Cove Tiki Bar Matchbook Shirt) and The Islander Tiki t-shirt are really nice. Do you plan on selling more Tiki-inspired shirts like these?

DV: Yes, there is an entire line of these shirts coming and will include some original designs.

TL: On your web site it says, “SLG Publishing: Better Comics Through Superior Firepower”. Can you tell us what that stands for?

DV: The Firepower are the comics and the talent that produces them. The slogan was a takeoff on Eisenhower’s “Peace Through Superior Firepower” slogan.

TL: What is a normal day-in-the-life for you at SLG publishing?

DV: There is no normal day in comics publishing. Every day brings a new challenge and rarely are two days alike. In recent years we have been running an all-ages music venue in our space, so on top of everything else I spend a good portion of every day booking music.

TL: Is there anything you’d like our readers to know about SLG? Future products?

DV: We are still here, although kind of quiet right now. We could really use some support from our fans right now so maybe go and get that t-shirt you were always thinking of buying.

TL: You sign your emails, “Success is not a goal, it’s a byproduct”. Can you explain that?

DV: I stole that from Friday Night Lights. It is something I say to myself every day.

TL: What would readers and fans of SLG find the most shocking about you?

DV: Shocking? Maybe that I am not a vicious drunk? That I play hockey? That I am over 50? That I am taller (or shorter or fatter) than people imagined? That would be a good poll for people who have met me.

TL: Do you have a favorite movie? What do you do to relax from a day of stress at SLG?

DV: Any Coen Brothers movie is my favorite. I have no spare time, but when I unwind I watch a lot of TV and sports.

TL: Dan, thank you so much for your time in answering these questions. I wish you and SLG the best of luck and hope the next 25 years are as successful as the past 25.

To check out all the great products SLG sells head on over to their website at:

Toy-Lines Crew


Filed under: Articles,Blogs,Interviews — admin @ 1:03 am

Pleygo is ready to PLEY

Posted on: March 19, 2014

Do you love creating building block displays, say the new Lego Death Star?  Do you want your kids to be exposed to toys that promote creativity but are trying to do it on a shoestring budget?  Well fret no more because its time to Pley.

Pley is the Netflix like service that allows you to fulfill your child or collector’s building block dreams.  Started by Super Mom Elina Furman in 2013, Pley is a service where you can rent thousands of building blocks sets of Lego for as long as you like and then return it for a different set. (Postage is included in your membership).  You don’t have to worry about missing pieces or if the blocks are dirty.  Pley expertly handles those problems for you by replacing pieces at no extra charge and every returned piece is properly cleaned.  What parent wouldn’t appreciate that?  You can experience the whole Lego series if you want to and best of all it doesn’t hurt your wallet.   You can even purchase a set for  a discounted price if you want to keep it.

Toy-Lines recently had the privilege of speaking with Founder Elina Furman about the future of Pley.


Toy-Lines: So how did Pley [formally Pleygo] get started?


Elina Furman: Well, it became a reality after my son, he was a Lego freak, and he wanted new sets all the time, like most kids his age. He’s six years old. And it was just getting so expensive and I started looking on-line for renting Lego and one thing led to another and I hooked up with my partner and we launched Pleygo.


TL: Your partner, did they have a business background?


EF: He has a finance background, so yes. It’s been a good working situation.


TL: Great. How has the first year been so far?


EF: The first year’s been great. Everyone thinks we’re crazy. We’re trying to figure out how to ship Lego and get it back, and it’s one of the toughest things, from a logistical standpoint, you can try to pull off. Kids and Legos. So the fact is that we’ve been really successful in growing our user base and there’s always hiccups in figuring out inventory and making sure everyone is happy and everyone has as many sets that they love, but it’s been great and the response has been really good.  People are excited and the kids are excited to get their Lego sets.  My son, we’re members obviously, but he’s on the program and he waits to get the sets. And when they come, he’s just ecstatic and obsessed.


TL: There’s been talk about you taking it overseas, internationally. Has that started yet?


EF: It has not yet. We’re looking for next year, hopefully, to go to the UK and start in Canada and yeah, we’re excited, because there’s a lot of demand and people are asking us.


TL: Has Lego shown any interest in Pley?


EF: Lego knows about us. They kind of have no official statement about us. We’ve had talks with them and from our point of view, we did some studies and actually all our members still want to go and buy Legos. So renting Lego does not hurt the Lego company, obviously, in any way because it just gives kids a supplement when they normally  wouldn’t go buy three sets a month.  I mean, some people do it. I used to. But a lot of the parents that we’re targeting can’t afford three sets a month.  That’s the problem, they can’t afford to have the constant stream of Lego sets arriving at their door. So this has been great for them. However people that can afford it, they say often that they would still go out and buy Lego sets regardless of the fact that they rent them.

TL: Is there any talk about coming up with an exclusive set that’s specifically for Pley?



EF: You know, we always talk about doing cool things and creating, we hope to start having our members come up with ideas, and if they come up with a cool set idea we can hopefully make it for them. Have maybe one winner, and we’ll have it in our inventories. We have a lot of ideas like that, to include the community, because we really want the kids to be creative. It’s not just about building sets. We want them to then use the sets to create something else. So we want that free play element as well.


TL: In your research, do you find that more adults are using your service, or is it the same amount of children?


EF: Do you know, surprisingly, we did think we were going to have a big adult community but we found that the AFOL [Adult friends of Lego] community is very attached.  They collect their sets, but the model of renting Lego — for them, it’s not about playing with it, it’s about collecting and displaying for a lot of the adults. So we haven’t had as many as we thought. But mostly it’s been the kids, because some of them don’t mind giving them back. They say they don’t want to give it back, but after a week of having it they’re like all right, I want the new set.


TL: You mentioned you had children. Do you find that the Lego sets are a bit complex?  Does that complexity turn children away from certain sets?

EF: Lego as a company has grown so much and obviously the Lego movie’s coming out and they’re dominating the world, and yes, it used to be Lego was more about free play and now all the kids want the sets and those are very complex. My son wants the Death Star for his birthday next month, and that’s very expensive obviously, but these kids, they’re very advanced and they want their sets.

Pley offers three levels of set rentals geared for different levels of creativity.

TL: Recently, I don’t know if you heard, there was a 7-year-old girl, Charlotte Benjamin, that recently wrote a letter to Lego saying that there isn’t enough Lego sets that are geared for females. How do you feel about that?


EF: Well, there’s been a lot of controversy about Lego doing the Pink Friends line and kind of patronizing the girls with all that and everyone’s against it.  Then on the other side the fact is that girls, if we can get them to build with the Friends set or something a little bit more unisex, then I’m all for it.  Obviously with science and engineering  we have to push girls in that direction.    We do that through Lego play, and there’s some other great products like Goldieblox.   So there’s a big attention now, girls and building, construction, but I think that’s great. And as for Lego, I’m all for developing as many sets for girls. Elina Furman


TL: You’re also associated with Worldwide Orphans?


EF: Yes, we have a few organizations that we work with. Right now we’ve mostly been working with the [ASD?] Autism plectrum Disorder community. We just had a brick drive through Generation Rescue where we collected bricks from all over the nation in a brick drive and then we donated to doctors who work with [ASD] patients. So we found that that’s a big correlation and the [ASD] community has found a great value for them in playing Lego.  They improve their social skills and it incentivizes them in many ways. So we worked with Generation Rescue and we hope to continue working with other [ASD] organizations.


TL: With Legos in general, asking you as a parent, do you set aside a certain time that they can play with Legos as opposed to watching TV or going outside?


EF: I would never bar my child from going outside, because he rarely wants to.  He wants to be inside, but the big thing for me is why I wanted him to play with Legos and why we spent so much money?  Because I wanted him to avoid screen time.  Whether that’s iPads, video games or TV, I give him maybe like a half-hour a day, and some snow days it’s a little more than that, but I really try. I want to push him to play with the Legos as much as possible. So that’s my goal, even if he doesn’t want to go outside, there’s really no limit to how much he can play as long as it’s not after when he has to go to sleep.


TL:  What other toys does he play with?

EF: That’s a good question, because at this age I feel that he’s changed so much with what he’s played with, everything’s construction toys. We have anything with blocks, we have the Tegu magnetic blocks, we have the Magformers, we have all these lights that we use. Just all these new toys coming out that should encourage kids to build and construct and create.  And art. We have a lot of art things. I love to push him in that direction. He also goes to Lego camps and always takes Lego classes. Yeah, he loves that.


TL:  Will Pley expand into other different types of construction blocks besides Legos?


EF: Yes, we’re looking to work with a few other companies. There’s so many new companies on the market. There’s a company called Little Bits where they create little circuits and you connect them and you make inventions.  Thomas the Train, any toy that helps kids build, construct, evolve, that are very expensive that they can’t afford but maybe they want to try it out.

Thank you to Elina Furman for the interview and if you want to try Pley’s service which includes a free trial set, log onto





Filed under: Articles,Interviews — admin @ 2:08 pm

I Geek Disney: Interview with Celebrations Magazine editor and creator Tim Foster

Posted on: February 21, 2014

If you’re like me and like the Walt Disney World Resort, you can’t get enough information on the history and creation of the theme parks, resorts and features. Luckily there’s Celebrations Magazine to keep us informed. Toy-Lines sat down with Tim Foster, the editor and creator of Celebrations, to discuss the great magazine.

Toy-Lines: How long have you been a Disney fan?

Tim Foster: Well, this is a two-part answer. I was actually at Walt Disney World the year it opened (though my only memories were of the Haunted Mansion and my brother losing his Donald Duck cap on “it’s a small world”…which we still haven’t found). But I didn’t return until after our daughter was born, back in the early 90s (which was quite a booming time at Walt Disney World!). On our first night there we visited Epcot, which of course was still fairly new, and it was pure magic. Ever since then it’s been multiple trips every year!

TL: What made you create Celebrations magazine?

TF: Actually, the first Disney project I did was the Guide to the Magic for Kids book. I realized it was a great way to combine my love for Disney with my love for design (I’m a graphic designer in “real life”). From there, the idea grew into a companion website, additional books, and eventually the magazine…which just seemed a natural extension of what I had been doing. I also recognized that there wasn’t a magazine devoted to Disney out there (Disney having ceased publication of their own magazine a few years prior), so it seemed to be the perfect fit. Regardless of whether it made any business sense though, it was always my dream (as it is with any designer) to create something of my own (i.e., not something at the whim of a client!), and making a magazine all about Disney was a dream come true.

TL: Can you tell us what goes into making an issue of Celebrations? How do you come up with the topics of articles?

TF: The fun thing about Celebrations is that each issue sort of creates itself. We have a whole host of volunteer writers, and they usually have free reign about they would like to talk about. My feeling is that the articles are better if the writer is talking about something they are passionate about, rather than working toward an assigned topic. The surprising thing is that very often a theme will emerge as an issue comes together. For example, several writers may independently come up with ideas that are unintentionally related, so that we end up with an issue that’s largely focused on, say, Adventureland (at which point we can tailor any remaining pieces, like the Games sections, to go with the theme).

Sometimes a theme does present itself (like the opening of New Fantasyland), but that’s more the exception than the rule.

TL: Are there topics you like to talk about more than others?

TF: Our focus is on the theme parks and resorts, as well as Disney history and films, so as long as we’re in that area pretty much anything goes. My goal with our articles is for the reader to be to able to say to themselves:

1)  Wow, I didn’t know that!

2)  Wow, I have to see that! and/or

3)  Wow, I remember that!

TL: How often do you or the writers from the magazine visit the parks for research or inspiration?

TF: I myself get down there two or three times a year. We have some writers that do the same, others that get down less frequently, and some that live so close that, if the wind is just right, they can hear the wolf howling at the Haunted Mansion! (Which they feel they have to constantly remind me about!)

TL: How did you decide on the name Celebrations?

TF: That came pretty quickly; Celebrations and Disney just naturally go together. And since the mission of the magazine is to celebrate all things Disney (as opposed to being review-oriented or negative), it made perfect sense.

TL: Were they any features you wanted to include in Celebrations that you couldn’t?

TF: No, as part of the initial planning I asked others in the Disney community if they would like to contribute in their respective areas of expertise, and everyone enthusiastically agreed, so we didn’t have any bumps in the road in that regard!

TL: Besides being the editor of Celebrations magazine you’re also the author of a couple of Disney books. Can you tell us about them?

TF: Yes, they actually came before the magazine. The first book was (and is) the “Guide to the Magic for Kids,” which is actually a guide book, photo book, sticker book, activity book, and journal all rolled into one. With the exception of Disney’s own By Kids for Kids book, there aren’t really any Disney guide books just for kids (there are several on traveling with kids, but they’re for the parents…where to pick up a stroller and that sort of thing). Our newest edition is just arriving now (which includes all of the New Fantasyland updates and other goodies).

I’ve also just released a companion book, the Guide to the Magic Deluxe Autograph Book, which includes all sorts of things like character stickers, World Showcase pages, places to write down your memories and collect photos, special character check lists, and even a place to collect Cast Member autographs.

As part of Celebrations, I’ve also published a hard cover pictorial book on Christmas at Disney. It proved to be so popular (selling out very quickly), that I am currently working on our second (all new) edition, which should be available in the Spring or Summer.

TL: What is your favorite Disney movie? Character? Theme park? Ride? Resort?

TF: Oh boy, that’s a hard question! “Favorite Disney Movie” shifts all the time, though I do have a special fondness for the Pixar films and “Ratatouille” in particular. (I also think “The Emperor’s New Groove” is vastly underrated!). As far as traditional Disney films, I’d have to say “Aladdin,” “The Jungle Book,” and “The Lion King” to pick out a few favorites (I told you this was hard!)

Favorite character? Figment of course, and Tigger is a favorite too. Epcot is hands down my favorite park, and you could put me in any of the Epcot resorts, I love them all. Favorite attraction? If I had to pick I’d say Splash Mountain, though I could ride the TTA for hours (I do, however, miss the old spiel!). I also love Spaceship Earth, though I prefer the previous ending with the city of the future (ah, the music!).

TL: Do you collect Disney items & if so what?

TF: Believe it or not I’m actually not much of a collector, just a few knick knacks here and there. Mainly I would say I just collect memories!

TL: Will Celebrations review the tours Disney offers in the parks?

TF: Sure! We’ve done so in the past, though we are respectful of the restrictions on some of the tours regarding photography and so forth.

TL: For readers who might be curious, how do you choose the authors for the magazine?

TF: I’m glad you asked that! We are always looking for new writers, and if anyone is interested they can contact us via our website, (they can email us at If you’re passionate about Disney and writing we would love to hear from you. As I mentioned earlier, the best place for us to start would be to talk about what aspects of Disney you are most passionate about, and from there we can see if can come up with some article ideas. Our current mix of writers has come from just about everywhere, from fellow members of the Disney online and media community, to music teachers, moms, and general Disney fans. It’s that constant mix of fresh stories and viewpoints that I think is behind much of Celebrations’ success, and it’s a great way for everyone to share the magic of Disney with their fellow enthusiasts.

TL: What can we expect from Celebrations in 2014?

TF: Lots of things! As I mentioned earlier, we will be publishing our second Christmas book in the coming months, and we are also working on the first in a series of books that focuses on each of the lands in the Magic Kingdom (and beyond)…everything from the back stories, history, little known facts, ride-throughs, Hidden Mickeys and secrets, and of course lots and lots of great pictures (which reminds me, we are always looking for additional photographers as well, so all you shutterbugs keep Celebrations in mind!).

We are also greatly expanding our website as a companion to the magazine and Guide to the Magic books, with tons of park-related content and guest blogs, with topics on everything Disney including the parks, resorts, historical events, personal magical moments, the latest news, and so on. As with the magazine, we are always interested in hearing from people who like to contribute blogs, so again, please contact us if you’d be interested in being part of the Celebrations team.

TL: Tim, thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

TF: Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak with you, and the best to you and your readers!

To learn more about Celebrations Magazine click the link to their website.

The Toy-Lines Crew

Filed under: Blogs,I Geek Disney,Interviews — admin @ 1:53 am
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